Perspective: Torrissi in Trenton
Farming is one of the single most important staples of American life, but our institutions often treat it as an afterthought.
Between heavy-handed regulations, overburdensome taxes and suburban and urban sprawl that encroaches on farmland, the people that grow our food have a lot to worry about that doesn’t include growing food.
Family farms still account for 86 percent of U.S. agriculture products, according to the U.S. Farm Bureau, yet because of everything that now goes into sustaining a farm, these family ranchers only see about 8 cents on every dollar of food they ship out. Here in Hammonton, which supports 80 percent of the state’s blueberry industry, farmers can feel the pressure that outside forces have on them.
New Jersey is notorious for having some of the highest business and property taxes in the nation. When you couple that with ever-changing Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Agriculture and Department of Community Affairs regulations, the environment could be downright perilous.
That’s why, as the state representative of many rural towns, I have to remain vigilant of what can be done to help our farmers. I’ve met with many local farmers — often check in with local blueberry farmers in Hammonton — and make it a point to sit down with the people over at NJ Farm Bureau. The main takeaway is that more needs to be done.
One of the most common refrains amongst farmers we hear is to protect their “right to farm.” The right to farm might sound basic and like common sense, but once you realize how things have changed for rural communities around us, it becomes one of the most sacred terms amongst farmers.
It’s no secret that towns have seen housing developments, apartment complexes and more spring up in New Jersey over the last few decades. Some neighborhoods that used to be farms for miles now see housing developments backed up to a family that still operates their farm. Once people move into those neighborhoods, they often complain about things like the loud noise of the equipment when starting up in the early hours of the morning.
What they don’t stop to think about is how long that farm’s been around and operating, as well as the laws in New Jersey that protect a farm from harassment and nuisance by neighbors and municipalities. After all, if you move next to a farm, you should expect farm operations to happen.
We need to continue to protect and add onto the Right to Farm Act in New Jersey. As new challenges come along, we have to make sure that families can harvest their land without scrutiny from outsiders.
Farming also needs to be protected as a financially sustainable way of life. The people who provide us with our fresh food shouldn’t be preyed upon by an overtaxing government. I’ve introduced legislation to allow farmers to write off more of their equipment purchases and investments on their taxes.
I’ve also proposed legislation to provide tax credits for farmers who provide lodging and transportation for seasonal workers, as well as advocated for relaxing the work hour laws for minors in order to provide farms with a more stable workforce.
None of these proposals is a magic bullet, but they all aim to ease the burden. Farms can’t do it all on their own, and what they produce is way too valuable compared to the lack of support they get from their government.
With a multi-pronged approach, this state can help farmers remain viable and continue on for generations to come. The first step is giving them the attention they deserve and advocating for them to the suburban and urban lawmakers that aren’t used to their way of life.
Michael Torrissi Jr.