By Michele S. Byers
New Jersey is doing a wonderful job preserving our state’s highly fertile farmland. In fact, the permanent preservation of the 200,000th acre of farmland was just celebrated at a ceremony in Salem County.
This impressive tally is great news for all Garden State residents, since preserved farms help ensure the production of fresh, local food.
But, what about the economic viability of farming? Besides good weather and rain, farmers today need innovation and flexibility to survive.
One of the federal Farm Bill’s programs, called the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE), provides research grants to help farmers improve their agricultural techniques and business skills.
But right now, SARE is threatened by the lack of a new federal Farm Bill. The Farm Bill was not reauthorized by Congress this past summer. It could be taken up in the lame duck session following the November elections.
SARE’s mission is to advance innovations that improve farm profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education. Since 1988, it has funded more than 5,000 projects across the country with grants for farmers, ranchers, extension agents, educators, students, researchers and nonprofits.
In New Jersey, where farming can mean everything from growing our state’s famous tomatoes and blueberries to shellfish aquaculture, SARE has funded research projects on a wide range of topics. Here’s a sampling of its recent grants:
• A Rutgers University researcher’s program to help farmers increase their income through agritourism;
• A project to increase the sustainability of New Jersey’s horse industry, which has a large impact on the farm economy;
• A project to revitalize oyster production in the Delaware Bay through research on breeding and growing oyster larvae;
• A project to improve the viability of queen honeybees, whose hives are essential for crop pollination;
• A Cumberland County wine grower’s project to increase the quality of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet Franc grapes;
• A project to help increase tomato production by improving soil with new equipment and techniques.
These projects can help our farmers earn a decent living from the land while producing healthy foods for New Jerseyans. The SARE program also helps keep farmers competitive in today’s business climate.
To find out more about the SARE program and its grants to New Jersey farmers, go to http://www.nesare.org/State-Programs/New-Jersey/SARE-projects-in-New-Jersey.
Take action to keep the SARE program by contacting your Congressmen and U.S. Senators and letting them know the importance of continuing research to keep our farms productive and profitable.
To find your congressman and send an email, go to http://www.house.gov/representatives/find. To contact New Jersey’s two senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, go to www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm?State=NJ.
And for more information on preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at email@example.com.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.