Congressional Members Concerned about Loss of Federal Dollars to Garden State

WASHINGTON, D.C. – New Jersey?s Republican Congressmen today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Edward Schafer expressing concern regarding New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine?s proposal to eliminate the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA) and its impact on federal dollars that are awarded to NJDA each year for state programs. U.S. Congressmen Frank LoBiondo (NJ-02), Jim Saxton (NJ-03), Chris Smith (NJ-04), Scott Garrett (NJ-05), Mike Ferguson (NJ-07) and Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11) joined in requesting the Agriculture Secretary outline the impact of the Governor?s plan on current and future federal funding.

The full text of the letter to Agriculture Secretary Schafer is as follows:

April 3, 2008

Dear Secretary Schafer:

We are writing on behalf of the nearly 500,000 people who live in the rural areas of New Jersey, regarding the proposal of Governor Jon Corzine to eliminate the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA).

We are inquiring as to the impact on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) funding and programs in New Jersey should the NJDA cease to exist. New Jersey Farm Bureau has informed us that millions of dollars in federal money would be lost and that many federal programs currently operating in New Jersey may be impaired without a NJDA. Of particular concern are the following:

1. Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program. It is our understanding that a minimum $1.5 million could be lost and up to an additional $252,000 may be imperiled in monies given directly to NJDA to determine demands for local produce and seafood and to prepare for food safety audits in the future.

2. Division of Animal and the Animal Health diagnostic laboratory. We understand the laboratory which allows the Division to offer testing for all animals in New Jersey for Bird Flu and other diseases and humane care of agricultural animals including investigation of animal cruelty cases has $1.3 million in FY07 funding which may be imperiled because the funding is conditioned on oversight by NJDA officials which would not exist without a NJDA.

3. Administering the Organic Certification Program. We understand the individual small grants to organic producers may also be imperiled because the USDA must officially certify a state organic program and specifies that the NJDA is the accredited agency in New Jersey. A new agency would have to be created and recertified or individual farmers would have to be accredited, a costly and time consuming process for our farmers.

We have also been apprised of potential detrimental impacts resulting from the elimination of the NJDA by the local conservation districts. We would appreciate your efforts to address the impact of the elimination of NJDA on the USDA-National Resources Conservation Service programs in New Jersey. We are very concerned that up to $15 million could be placed at risk and thousands of acres of rural land could be exposed to development and lost to agricultural forever, if programs such as Farm and Ranchland Preservation, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and the many other conservation programs USDA administers through NJDA.

In addition, we are very interested in learning of the impact on Specialty Crops, Rural Development, National Disaster, and Food Safety programs if NJDA were eliminated. We are not only concerned about the millions of federal dollars which may be lost but also about the loss of NJDA as the coordinating agency for many state and local entities who interact with USDA and as a partner with other state Departments of Agriculture. We are particularly interested in the food safety, plant pest control, emergency food distribution to food banks, and school nutrition programs which NJDA implements for or works in cooperation with UDSA.

We are deeply troubled about the repercussions of this decision on the people of New Jersey. It is difficult to imagine the Garden State without a Department of Agriculture to promote its products, protect its food supply, and provide support for those people who live, work, and raise families in our rural communities.

We appreciate your attention to this inquiry and look forward to your response.

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