Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is introduced as the keynote speaker of the 100th annual New Jersey Agricultural Convention at the Tropicana Wednesday night. In her speech, she said the state needs younger farmers. 

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno said the state must lower the average age of farmers Wednesday night to ensure New Jersey remains the “Garden State.”

Guadagno delivered the keynote address at the 100th annual New Jersey Agricultural Convention at the Tropicana. In her speech, she said the average age of the New Jersey farmer is 59, and farmers must work on getting millennials involved with agriculture.

“You get the students’ interest by making it cool,” she said. “You have awards. You have competitions. You create apps. You text about it.”

She said the state must increase STEM-Ag education initiatives to keep pace with the changing nature of agriculture. Guadagno said there are 21 high school districts in the state with a Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education program, in which students who graduate from the program can get 11.5 college credits — a value of about $30,000 — for free at participating schools, such as Rutgers University.

“Farming today is not going to look like farming 10 years from now, or five years from now,” she said.

Guadagno described the average age of the farmer as not just a state issue. By 2050, she said, there will be 7 billion to 9 billion people to feed.

“It’s not just a state challenge, it’s a global challenge,” she said

This was Guadagno’s second public appearance in Atlantic City this week. Guadagno spoke at the Statewide Republican Event Monday at the Borgata.

Guadagno is under a spotlight with the possibility of Gov. Chris Christie running for president. If Christie runs, he could resign and leave Guadagno in charge as governor until the next election. Even if Christie doesn’t resign, she'd still be running the state while he's campaigning around the country.

Members of the audience overwhelmingly supported Guadagno and said they’d be comfortable with her as governor.

Stacey Holtzhauser, 51, from the New Jersey Peach Festival, said she has previously seen Guadagno speak and has looked up her other speeches online.

“She’s intelligent, she’s very smart,” she said. “She’s very personable to the people and I think she would make a big difference for New Jersey.”

Sam Mento, a blueberry grower from Hammonton and executive board treasurer for the Atlantic County Board of Agriculture, said it was great to see that Guadagno was at this event and knows “the importance of agriculture.”

“If it were Christie, or if not, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, it’s great to know they realize agriculture is a big part of New Jersey’s economy,” he said.

Guadagno is also considered a potential 2017 candidate for governor, as Christie is not allowed to run then because New Jersey governors cannot serve three consecutive terms.

Before her 20-minute speech, she shook hands, cracked jokes and took a picture with a baby.

“I just have to see that baby,” she said, before posing next to the 8-month-old girl and her 38-year-old father, Mitchell Jones, a member of the New Jersey Board of Agriculture.

“She’s very down-to-earth,” Jones said of Guadagno.

Midway through her 20-minute speech, Guadagno referenced that baby.

“In 2050, I’m not going to be here,” she said. “But that little baby in the front row, she’s going to be here.”

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