Where Have All the Farmers Gone?

The 2012 Census of Agriculture reported the existence of 9,071 farms in the Garden State. Since the previous 2007 Census had reported 10,327 farms, some in the ag community were quick to express concern over what the decline in NJ farm numbers meant, if anything.

Farmer-SHitchner-2006However, in thinking about farm numbers and the farm economy, accepting the 2007 USDA Census data at face value might be a mistake.

 
In 2007, USDA policy leadership and Congressional policy advocates wanted to portray the USA as a nation with rising numbers of small farms, urban and urban fringe farms, and farms operated by non-traditional operators. The Farm Bill policy campaign was called, “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” and its laudable goal was to connect people with local nutritious food and farmers who raise it. In an ever-consolidating, large-farm global marketplace, officials wanted to elevate economically viable local food system career opportunities and community development for young people. What better method than by manipulating Census reporting to reveal a rising number of small farm opportunities?
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Farm Calls:
Troubleshooting Stunting in a Strawberry Field

This week a grower called to report an area of stunted strawberry plants, first noticed after removal of the row covers in April. There may have been overwatering on occasion.

If you read the 2016 Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations, you’ve seen the page, Diagnosing Vegetable Crop Problems (A27). Stepping through the diagnostic process with a grower is mutually satisfying – there’s nothing better than getting to the root of a problem so it can be minimized or avoided altogether in the future. The process involves tracing the history of the field and the development of the problem, then closely examining the soil and plants.

Field and Crop History

Our grower said that the field previously had summer cover crop, which was tilled under while green. A couple of weeks later, raised beds were made with plastic mulch applied. The strawberry plugs were set into the beds in late summer. The growth differences that caused him to call weren’t noticed until after the row covers were removed in April.

Plant growth differences in a strawberry field.

Our grower’s strawberry field.

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Mobile Market Cooler Conversion Demonstration

Mobile Market CoolerScalable for small and mid-sized farm operations, portable farm market-type display units have dual benefits of big visual impact with quality enhancing cooling, extending fresh fruit and vegetable shelf life. For those with basic carpentry skills, converting a utility trailer into an insulated cooler box is a relatively easy project. Reasonably priced, these units add versatility boosting the “farm’s capacity to grow, and support their bottom line and sustainability.”

Utility Trailer to Mobile Market Cooler

While this project used a new 6’ x 12’ utility box trailer, others have cut costs for similar projects substituting used trailers, transportable boxes, or built-in units. The cooler unit is a standard household window air conditioning unit with a CoolBot controller that overrides the AC units thermostat, tricking it to keep it running well below household temperature ranges. The AC mobile market cooler in this conversion is adapted from instructions for a smaller Pack-n-Cool unit created by Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie, NCSU. See Pack-n-Cool Construction Summary to read about her experiences.
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Farmer Agritourism Resources:
Hayride Safety Educational Tools

Hayrides are a popular activity for agritourism operations and a marketing attraction for pick-your-own farms. While the farmer, their family, and experienced employees are familiar with the hazards that come along with being around farm equipment, the general public is not. With proper planning and management, using a tractor and wagon to transport guests can be a safe activity.

Check wagon safety chain/cable connection to tractor before every run.

Check wagon safety chain/cable connection to tractor before every run.

Accidents are most likely to be avoided:

  • with adequate supervision and training of employees;
  • by maintaining site and crowd control;
  • by operating equipment properly.

 

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