New Jersey celebrates 100th anniversary of agricultural department

The sun sets over a cornfield in Central New Jersey. (Bigstock/andykazie)

The sun sets over a cornfield in Central New Jersey. (Bigstock/andykazie)

Ceremonies at the New Jersey Statehouse marked the 100th anniversary of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture — and the massive changes in the state’s agricultural industry has undergone through that century.

Agriculture Secretary Doug Fisher said far fewer acres are devoted to farming in the Garden State than in 1916.

“We had 2 million acres of farmland, but now we have 700,000,” he said. “Yet we’re producing way more than they produced because of the growing methods and the advances in production techniques. Our farmland is the second-most productive farmland in the country.”

A hundred years ago, the major agriculture sector in New Jersey consisted of dairy farms and the grain to supply the herds. Horticulture, fruit and vegetable production have since risen to the fore.

“Vineyards have increased in our state… it’s one of the fastest-growing sectors,” Fisher said. “We have over 50 wineries in the state. We have a number of producers that are doing value-added products to extend the season for products that can be served year round like jams and jellies and a whole host of other manufactured goods.”

Food and agriculture contribute billions of dollars to the state’s economy, he said.

“‘Agrifood’ is the third-largest industry in the state. If you talk about just agriculture itself, it manifests itself into the billions of dollars,” Fisher said. “So our farm gate is $1.1 billion, but when you take that through food processing and the other ways that the food system works, it’s multiple billions.”

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