Michael Scuse, Secretary of Agriculture, Delaware
Charles Kuperus, Secretary of Agriculture, New Jersey
Dennis C. Wolff, Secretary of Agriculture, Pennsylvania
Steven M. Crawford, Pennsylvania Secretary of Legislative Affairs
Charles M. Kuperus owns a nursery and garden center in Sussex, New Jersey. Prior to being named New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture in 2002, Kuperus served as a commissioner on the New Jersey State Planning Commission where he led the plan development process. He has served as Director of the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and First Vice President of the New Jersey Farm Bureau.
Michael T. Scuse farms 1,700 acres with his brother, Dale near Smyrna, Delaware. The farm grows corn, soybeans and wheat. Sworn in as Delaware Secretary of Agriculture in May, 2001, he has served as chairman of the Kent County Regional Planning Commission, the Kent County Recorder of Deeds and as State Committee Chairman of the Farm Service Agency. He is an active member of Ducks Unlimited and is a breeder of registered paint horses.
Dennis C. Wolff
Dennis C. Wolff is a dairy farmer from Millville, Columbia County, Pennsylvania. He owns Pen-Col Farms, which is a 600-acre, 400-head operation. He was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell and confirmed in May, 2003. Wolff serves as a member of the Agriculture Technical Committee of the World Trade Organization, a member of the Pennsylvania State University Board of Trustees and a member of the Pennsylvania Dairy Stakeholders. He is president of the Nicholas Wolff Foundation and Camp Victory, a non-profit summer camp for handicapped and chronically ill children.
Pennsylvania agriculture is much diversified whether we are talking about the mushroom industry in the Southeast part of the state or the grape industry in the Northeast. Each sector of the Pennsylvania agricultural industry has its own issues to deal with including animal health, plant health, political issues and markets. One of the problems we have in Pennsylvania is large farm versus small farm agriculture. The smaller farms have the opportunity to grow value-added products and take them directly to the market and many need to do that to survive. Larger farms, particularly livestock operations have been challenged. We have developed a relationship with the association of town supervisors in the state to deal with the tendency to pass ordinances in some communities to put restriction on size of livestock operations. These kinds of restrictions are responsible for the loss of many of our young people who do not see the opportunity to stay on the farm because of imposed limitations.
Alternative fuels are a new market farmers are exploring. A group of producers in Lancaster County has done due diligence on a plan to build an ethanol plant and are in the process of raising $80 million to build it. With Pennsylvania’s large livestock industry and an ethanol industry, the state would have to import even more corn from other states than the current one million bushels we now import each year. Unless there is some extra economic incentive, the economics of ethanol are difficult.
Our number one issue for the longer term is educating the people of the state regarding agriculture’s importance. The kindergarten through 12th grade program and workshops we conduct are very important in this connection.
The Secretaries of Agriculture of our three states work closely together. When we had an outbreak of avian influenza in Delaware, I spoke with the governor in our state and then picked up the phone and called my fellow secretaries in Pennsylvania and Delaware. While times change, they do not change as much as one may think. We still have problems with pests and markets the way we did years ago.
Delaware has a large grain industry with corn, soybeans and wheat being the big three. We have a fairly large vegetable industry, producing more processed vegetables than the four surrounding states combined. But poultry production, which is a multi-billion-dollar industry, is the biggest. Much of our economy is tied to it. The outbreak of avian influenza earlier this year threatened a panic, causing us to look at better ways to handle outbreaks in the future. We are working particularly hard on more effective ways to remove the threat from live bird markets, where avian influenza spreads and have new regulations affecting these markets in place.
The corporate farming issue in the context of disease outbreaks has been exaggerated as a source of poultry diseases. In Delaware, the most recent outbreak began in a relatively small poultry operation with 12,000 birds. It should be remembered that agriculture feeds not only our country, but much of the rest of the world. We are heavily dependent on our larger farmers. Critics continually refer to large corporate farms but most large farms are really family farms. The family across the road from where I grew up tills 6,500 acres with the participation of a grandfather, his son and two grandsons.
In terms of adding new markets for farmers, we are considering a plant that would produce diesel fuel from soybeans. One reason for this effort is that in the Northeast it is difficult to meet the federal air quality standards. When diesel engines use soy diesel fuel, there is a substantial reduction in all of the emissions that regular diesel fuels produce. Studies in Delaware show soy diesel also reduces engine maintenance requirements and wear and tear on the engine itself. Fuel economy also improves. The challenge is to get the marketplace to use biodiesel products and efforts are underway to promote these products. Legislation is being proposed to mandate use of soy blend diesel in Delaware.
Our largest issue in the future will be protecting the land base. As land is used for non-agricultural purposes, we lose critical mass in agriculture and eventually, we will lose the infrastructure that supports our agricultural system.
Since our state is the most densely populated in the country, we need to reposition agriculture when it comes to land use issues and the economy. Our state is 4.8 million acres in size. Of that, 830,000 acres is dedicated to agriculture. You would think as the Garden State, we would want to maintain a viable agriculture. But to do that, we need to preserve agricultural land. We spend $80 million a year on farmland preservation. Last year, we preserved 20,000 acres, which makes a total of 122,000 of our acres preserved so far. Now the challenge is to open up new markets to those farmers on preserved land so they can operate profitably. When we came up with our “smart growth” plan for agriculture, there were five components: farmland preservation, economic development, conservation planning, agriculture sustainability, and associated environmental considerations.
We work cooperatively with surrounding states on issues like avian influenza. New Jersey, with a large immigrant population, has the most live bird markets where poultry disease can be spread but we work with the Northeast Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NEASDA) on a regional strategy to combat outbreaks. We passed emergency rules and stepped up surveillance, working with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). At the same time, we need to respond to consumers and have positions on every animal husbandry practice. When consumers say de-beaking of chickens is bad, we have to explain why it is needed. We have developed a set of humane standards for the New Jersey livestock industry.
We are committed to developing new markets for our farmers. Our goal is ten new community markets for farmers to be developed every year. Shortening the link between producers and consumers has to be part of our agricultural economic development strategy. We also have a group of farmers developing ethanol as an alternative market. They have located a site in West Deptford to build a plant that would produce about 40 million gallons of ethanol a year – and that isn’t even close to meeting the demand for ethanol in the region.
Our number one priority for agriculture in New Jersey is to get the industry more directly involved in dialogs concerning the economical and political issues of the state.
In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.