Farmers face huge challenges from nature, and they accept that. Weather can freeze a crop in the bud, parch it in a drought or drown it with too much rain.
But farmers in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation, say the biggest problem they face is interference from nonfarmers. They voted it their No. 1 issue at the 2017 New Jersey Farm Bureau annual meeting.
They call it the Right to Farm issue, said New Jersey Farm Bureau Executive Director Peter Furey.
People build McMansions, then try to prevent nearby farms from going about their business. Municipal officials try to regulate them beyond reason, he said.
Labor and immigration issues were voted the second most pressing problem, Furey said.
Hammonton blueberry farmer Sam Mento would like to see a special agricultural visa be made more freely available for farmworkers to come into the country during the harvest season, then return to their home countries in the offseason. Right now, very few of those visas are available, Furey said.
Produce farmer John Formisano, of Buena Vista Township, said this spring’s E. coli bacteria scare over romaine lettuce grown in Arizona caused prices to fall dramatically. Local farmers tilled it under, because it would have cost them more than they would have recouped to harvest it. He’d like to see a better public-information program, so all farmers aren’t tainted when those in one region have a problem.
Farmers need continual agricultural research and professional education, which they get from county agricultural agents through the Rutgers Cooperative Extension program, Furey said.
“Family farms can’t afford to do their own research, but we are collectively responsible for the food supply, so we need constant innovation to stay current,” Furey said. That takes state funding, which has not increased for 10 years.