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Agriculture front and center at combined New Jersey conventions

ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — Agricultural interests across the Garden State gathered the first week in February for the 2014 New Jersey Agricultural Convention & Trade Show and the New Jersey State Agricultural Convention.

This was the third year that the annual State Agricultural Convention co-located with the annual conventions of the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey and the New Jersey Blueberry Association.

NJ643Robert A. Swanekamp Sr., president of New Jersey's State Board of AgricultureThis year also represented the first time that those groups were joined by the Garden State Wine Growers Association, the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station of Rutgers University and the New Jersey Grain & Forage Association.

This year's combined event took place Feb. 4-6 at the Trump Taj Mahal, here.

Despite a series of strong storms that hit the Northeast and mid-Atlantic just before the event began and again during the event — leaving up to nine inches of snow in parts of New Jersey and causing hundreds of thousands to lose power for days in some areas of the storm's path — the agricultural event drew a large and enthusiastic crowd.

Close to 500 people attended the dinner banquet Wednesday evening, Feb. 5, where New Jersey's lieutenant governor spoke about many issues of concern to the agricultural industry, according to Alfred W. Murray, the state's assistant secretary of agriculture.

NJ669Ray Gilmer, vice president of issues management and communication for the United Fresh Produce Association Over all, close to 1,500 people enjoyed some portion of the three-day combined event, such as the general sessions, the workshops and the trade show, he noted.

"We were very pleased with the participation this year," Murray told The Produce News a few days after the event concluded. "There was a lot of great debate on the issues. It was good to see that the issues [of interest to New Jersey] were in synch with many of the national issues," such as food safety, crisis management, genetically modified organisms and farm labor. "These are things that affect not only New Jersey but the entire country," he said.

Held annually since 1914, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, which is governed by the State Board of Agriculture, has conducted a legally mandated annual convention of the state's entire agricultural industry.

NJ698Kim Guadagno, New Jersey's lieutenant governorFounded in 1955, the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey disseminates knowledge of the growing and marketing of vegetables through cooperation with the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Rutgers Cooperative Research & Extension, the New Jersey and U.S. departments of agriculture, and other organizations and committees working for or interested in the vegetable industry in the Garden State.

"The New Jersey State Agricultural Convention is unique in that it brings the entire New Jersey agricultural industry together," said Murray. "From this meeting, policy is set for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture to follow in the coming year."

He added, "This event gives New Jersey farmers a voice in policy issues affecting their industry."

NJ649Alfred FinocchiaroOn the subject of several groups co-locating their conventions, Murray stated, "We find the partnership with the Vegetable Growers Association to be very beneficial. Our goal is to get as many voices heard as possible."

He lauded the prospects for a "good spillover of attendees" at the combined event. For example, delegates to the State Agricultural Convention had an opportunity to walk the Vegetable Growers Association's trade show, while attendees of the Vegetable Growers Association's program had an opportunity to see the State Agricultural Convention in action.

Among the many activities at the Vegetable Growers Association's convention was a live auction, held Tuesday evening, Feb. 4, which raised about $5,000 for the Coach Wags Memorial Foundation, which was founded in 2010 and whose sole mission is to help raise money and awareness for children.

A number of awards were presented during the course of the event.

The New Jersey Agricultural Society presented the Tony Russo Farmers Marketing Award to Richard and Joyce Mood, owners of Moods Farm Market near Mullica Hill, NJ; the society also presented the Phillip Alampi Industry Marketing Award to F. Scott Fein of CH Robinson. Kristina Guttadora, director of the New Jersey Agricultural Society, presented the Neil Robson Farmers Against Hunger Award to Sue and Jim Giamarese, who have dedicated their lives to the Farmers Against Hunger program since its inception in 1996.

The Jersey Fresh Patrick Mullen Quality Grading Award went to James Van Daley and Heather Mills, owners of Honey & Sweets Farm Stand in Galloway, NJ.

The Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey named W. Scott Ellis of Ellis Farms in Yardville, NJ, known especially for sweet corn, as Vegetable Grower of the Year for 2014.

Robert A. Swanekamp Sr., president of New Jersey's State Board of Agriculture, presided over an open meeting of the board Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 4.

Douglas H. Fisher, New Jersey's secretary of agriculture, delivered the annual State of the State of Agriculture Wednesday morning, Feb. 5.

New this year: Ray Gilmer, vice president of issues management and communication for the United Fresh Produce Association in Washington, DC, spoke Wednesday, Feb. 5, on the topic of crisis management.

Among the objectives of crisis management are to minimize financial impact, minimize impact on brand reputation, demonstrate a commitment to doing the right thing and get back to business as soon as possible.

"A crisis in not a time to develop a strategy and learn how to execute," Gilmer told attendees of the session.

On the topic of crisis preparation, he urged attendees to anticipate every possible situation, assign responsibilities to your team and outside counsel, have a crisis plan, and conduct regular crisis drills.

"A crisis is something you want to go by quickly," he said. "And if you handle it right, it will."

In her comments at the dinner banquet Wednesday evening, Feb. 5, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno noted that state officials had visited many counties and businesses in the state, including the town of Hammonton, known as the blueberry capital of the world.

"We need to find a way to expand" the popular Jersey Fresh program, she said, and "we have an obligation to plan for disasters" such as Hurricane Sandy, which devastated many areas of the Jersey Shore as well as sections of New York City and elsewhere in late October 2012.

"I'm very proud of what we've done the last four years," but we need to do more, she concluded. "We will continue to work together to solve any problems you have."