ATLANTIC, CITY, NJ — New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher began his annual State-of-the-State of Agriculture address Wednesday morning, Feb. 10, at New Jersey's 101st State Agricultural Convention with a tribute to Charles M. Kuperus, who served as the state's sixth secretary of agriculture from 2002 to 2008 and who died Dec. 30, 2015, at the age of 57.
"He accomplished so much," Fisher told delegates assembled for the convention, held here at Harrah's Resort & Waterfront Conference Center. In a short video, one New Jersey official cited the former secretary's "professionalism," another called him "knowledgeable and compassionate," another called him "an extraordinarily good man, and another said, "The state is far better for his service to agriculture."
Turning to the state of agriculture in New Jersey, Fisher said he was "extremely proud to stand before you in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture's 100th anniversary." Thanks to records and books that date back to the beginning of the department, "We can glean information about what topics were foremost on the minds of the delegates and the department in 1916," he said. "Topics like the inspection of raspberries, blackberries and dewberries in order to ensure berries shipped to other states did not carry diseases with them."
To be sure, he said, "Some issues that affect you as farmers today — destructive weather, animal and plant diseases, how to market agricultural crops, methods of conserving soil and water — were all being dealt with by New Jersey farmers in the year the department was born. But would your forefathers even imagine some of the other issues you all will deal with at this convention?" he asked, such as wireless communications, drones and experiments with cross-breeding plant species that "would someday reach the genetic level and kick off a national debate about GMOs."
Secretary Fisher continued, "Consider the pace of technology today vs. the pace of technology in the early 1900s. It took close to 100 years to move from Bell's laboratory to the cellphones we all carry around today. Technology moves faster and faster. More than likely, we will not even be able to conceive of the issues that New Jersey's agricultural delegates will address a mere 30 years from now, let alone 100."
Broad categories of issues may stay the same, "but the expansion of them will likely be extreme," he stated. "For instance, in sales, what was once a commodity-style marketing through a cooperative organization becomes a household-specific, highly targeted direct marketing approach."
The department "strives to remain forward-thinking," he said. "We are planning for conserving resources; we are addressing school nutrition in a way that helps build the next generation of consumers for your farm products."
For the most part, "change is the one thing that remains constant," said Fisher. "What will stay the same, at least we hope so, are the things this state's agriculture has going for it. We have the greatest farmers we can ever hope to assemble, farmers who produce so efficiently and so well that New Jersey remains consistently in the top-10 states for an array of agricultural products despite being one of the smallest states in the nation."
He continued, "Our geographic location, which we know won't change, remains in the middle of everything, thanks to positioning between Washington, New York and Philadelphia, as well as proximity to ports that ship around the world."
The agricultural industry "continues to address basic human needs," declared Fisher. "With all the changes that technology brings, our industry addresses the human condition. People may decide to abandon the horse-and-buggy for the automobile, or the automobile for the flying car, but they will always need to eat, always want to be part of an aesthetically pleasing environment. But getting information about how to achieve those goals isn't neat anymore. Much information [that] people get isn't all that great. In fact, it may be disinformation."
It is at those times, said the secretary, "when questions are asked that may be based on faulty information, that I urge you to exercise the most patience — to resist the urge to get defensive about your farming practices. I understand how difficult it can be, when you're faced with the pressures of all the details you must address in growing what you grow, raising what you raise, to also keep one eye on the bigger picture. But I urge you to do so."
He concluded, "Authenticity is the key. My point is that we must just keep pushing, knowing none of us can truly predict the future. Change will happen, and all we can really count on is the rock-solid values of you being who you are. That will transcend everything."