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New Jersey Farm Bureau
Photo of NJ Farm Bureau receiving award

State Board of Agriculture President Noble McNaughton, Farm Bureau Director Peter Furey, Farm Bureau President Rich Nieuwenhuis, and Acting Secretary of Agriculture Al Murray

Over the years, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture has always counted the New Jersey Farm Bureau among its closest allies.

Farm Bureau has worked with the Department to help craft and influence legislation affecting New Jersey’s agricultural community. And Farm Bureau stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Department in times of crisis facing farmers.

The road isn’t always smooth, and the discussions can sometimes get heated, But the Department and Farm Bureau know they can count on each other when the Garden State’s farmers and other agricultural and food interests need a strong voice in Trenton.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the weeks leading up to April 1, 2008. At that time, the Department had been targeted for elimination in the state’s FY09 budget. Along with the Departments of Personnel and Commerce, the NJDA was viewed as expendable by those crafting the state’s spending plan.

But New Jersey’s agricultural community had other ideas. They knew the Department served as more than just a quote-unquote “Chamber of Commerce for Farmers,” as some in Trenton liked to say.

They had seen firsthand not only the value of having a strong advocate at the cabinet level, but also an experienced hand helping to guide them through issues like food safety and security, animal diseases, plant pests, conservation and new and expanding markets.

While the ag community yearned for strong opposition to the elimination proposal, the Department faced a dilemma. Its position as part of the executive branch of government limited its leaders in making a strong public stand against the plan. At best, they could encourage public debate and provide information about the necessity for the Department.

Farm Bureau, however, faced no such constraints. The Bureau’s leaders took up the cudgel and spoke out in the press and at public events. They rallied county agriculture boards, talked to commodity and trade groups and wrote guest columns in newspapers denouncing the proposal.

That effort culminated on April 1, 2008, when nearly 1,500 farmers, more than 100 tractors, and dozens of horses converged in a cold spring rain outside the Statehouse in a massive protest.

Carrying “Save the NJDA” signs, and others that were, well, more colorful messages to the powers-that-be, New Jersey’s ag community showed just how much opposition and public outcry would fall upon the state’s leaders if they went through with the elimination plan.

Farm Bureau leaders arranged for state, county and local officials who opposed the elimination to speak on the steps of the Statehouse.  They followed through with intensive lobbying of individual legislators whose votes would be needed to make the proposal a reality.

In the end, the votes weren’t needed. The intense public pressure resulted in the proposal to eliminate the NJDA being pulled from the budget plan. As Governor Corzine declared to the editorial board of the Courier-Post newspaper, “Nobody’s going to go up on that cross.”

Though budget issues still persist, the Department remains as a strong cabinet-level advocate for issues facing New Jersey’s ag community. And that is, in very large part, thanks to the efforts of its good friends in the New Jersey Farm Bureau.

For that, New Jersey Farm Bureau is honored with this year’s sole “Distinguished Service to Agriculture” award.