Township Farmer Participates In County Conference

GENERATIONAL FARMING DISCUSSED – The Generational Farmer panel at Somerset County’s Influencing Agriculture Conference included (l-r) Carol English of English Farm in Basking Ridge; Matt Puskas of Middlebush Farm in Franklin Township; and Jimmy Abma of Abma’s Farms in Hillsborough and Doug Van Nuys of Hillsboro Farm.

A township farmer was among 13 Somerset County farmers who participated in panel discussions at the recently held “Influencing Agriculture” conference in Hillsborough.

Matt Puskas, of Middlebush Farm, was part of the Generational Farming panel in the conference, which was hosted buy Somerset County at Duke Farms.

The conference was seen as an opportunity for local farmers to describe the economic challenges of farming, according to a press release about the event.

The conference also celebrated the County’s successful Farmland Preservation Program and was attended by owners of preserved local farms, as well as state, academic, and business leaders, according to the release.

During the conference, Somerset County officials announced their biggest farmland preservation “pipeline” in the 40-year history of farmland preservation, consisting of 2,432 potential acres across 35 farms,. the release said. Upon completion, these projects would increase the county’s preserved farm acreage from 9,000 today to more than 11,400 acres. Last year, the county announced a goal of preserving 16,000 acres of farmland.

“The fact that we’re holding this conference is a testament to our commitment to creating a more agriculture-friendly environment in Somerset County,” Somerset County Commissioner Paul M. Drake, liaison to the Somerset County Agriculture Development Board, said in the release. “Preserved farms are an important part of our strategy for long term viability of farming, but our job is not done after farms are preserved. We need to make sure farming is economically sustainable, too.”

The 13 farmers, featured in a new County video, participated in panel discussions sharing economic challenges they face and opportunities for the future of agriculture in Somerset County, the release said. Farmers’ cited as among the factors preventing them from making full-time careers out of farming crop damage from the overpopulation of deer, regulatory barriers, distribution challenges, healthcare costs, lack of access to capital, changing weather patterns due to climate change, and the need for public education around local food systems, the release said.

“Most people don’t have a concept about where their food comes from,” Doug Van Nuys, owner of Hillsboro Farm, said in the release. “They have no idea what it takes for us to produce, how hard it is, and all the factors that come into play with water quality, insect damage, deer damage… the weather constantly throwing us a curve ball … and the public will ask us why we don’t have a certain vegetable or fruit. Everything is a cycle and a season, and we have to work with it. We need to be an educator to our customers.”

“Farming is our history, farming is our culture; our farmers exemplify that heritage, that fine tradition,” Somerset County Commissioner Melonie Marano, who moderated the Generational farmer panel, said in the release.”

Kate Katzer, Somerset County’s Principal Planner for Agriculture, in the Office of Planning, Policy and Economic Development, announced that Somerset County currently has its largest pipeline ever for farmland preservation.

Farmland preservation projects are funded through New Jersey and the Somerset County Open Space fund. The County purchases easements on farms to keep the land permanently in agriculture. When farmers preserve their farm, they receive compensation for giving up the right to develop the property for any purpose other than agriculture.

The Influencing Agriculture conference coincided with the opening of many local farms to the public for harvest season festivals and markets. Somerset County websites list local farm markets and agritourism opportunities.

Commissioner Drake said that Somerset County this summer pushed for “Central Jersey” to be added to the state tourism map to encourage agritourism. “People who come to visit our farms also spend money in our hotels, restaurants, retail shops, and service businesses of all kinds,” he said in the release. “By helping farmers succeed, we help the larger business community succeed.”

Influencing Agriculture was the second convening this year of industry leadership organized by Somerset County’s Economic Development Office, in Somerset County Office of Planning, Policy and Economic Development.

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