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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Ingemi

Seeing South Jersey as an ‘Agricultural & Life Sciences Corridor’

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Economic development need not be complicated. When regions look to expand their economies, the best place to start is with pre-existing industries. As the saying goes, “there is no need to reinvent the wheel.”

For the South Jersey region, that foundational industry is agriculture. Readers do not need any reminder that Hammonton is the “Blueberry Capital of the World.” Eastern Burlington County has a long tradition with growing cranberries. Cumberland County is the home of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center and Rowan University in Gloucester County has just broken ground on a new Veterinarian School. Agriculture is strong and vibrant with the potential for even more progress. Yet many regional officials fail to notice whenever economic development is discussed.

With more focus and commitment, we could drive economic growth in South Jersey by combining agriculture, technology, and workforce development. This does not mean more mandates and regulations on any businesses or farms. Business owners and farmers know what is best for their organizations and understand their customers and markets. It is a matter of developing more mechanisms to enable further development of the agricultural sector in every segment of the supply chain.

Why can’t we ensure multiple income streams for farms? Neighboring states provide some best practices that could be adopted. Microbreweries are common sites on small family farms in Upstate New York. NJ should be making such operations easier to start in the state. In Central Pennsylvania, solar fields are a common site as they are unobtrusively placed among dairy and livestock pastures. These farmers are taking advantage of the clean energy portions of the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act.

So many of our elected officials in South Jersey need to be encouraging our farmers to do likewise instead of spreading misinformation as our Congressman, Jeff Van Drew, chose to do when he spread falsehoods about the Inflation Reduction Act, in my opinion.

Another possibility for a revenue stream is the idea of carbon credits. Carbon credits are payments companies make to offset their carbon emissions. The payments are used to subsidize carbon capturing efforts. These programs have become mainstream with major financial firms servicing these carbon markets. Farms can capture carbon utilizing certain growing techniques. New Jersey should examine the possibility of giving farmers the opportunity to adopt these techniques and sell the resulting carbon credits. Carbon credits could potentially create an incentive for counties and municipalities to create economic value from their parks and open space.

Breakthroughs in technology continuously dominate the news cycle. Developments such as artificial intelligence, block chains, drones, and electric vehicles are fueling research into how this innovation can improve our lives. Therefore, doesn’t it make sense to create an Agricultural Technology Center in our area? The purpose of such an entity would be to conduct and commercialize research and incubate businesses to apply new technology to improve agriculture productivity. The center would bring together the agriculture and technology sectors in partnership with local universities and compliment current initiatives like the Food Science Center in Bridgeton.

Finally, any discussion of economic development must include workforce development.

Careers in agriculture go far beyond working the fields. They include jobs at every level throughout the value chain. However, these jobs remain unfilled. Growing our agricultural sector will require training, education, and mentorship for the next generation. Couldn’t we do this by expanding the USDA CASE Educational curriculum within our high schools? CASE stands for Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education. The program certifies teachers to teach classes in engineering, business, and the life sciences with a focus on agriculture.

Students are able to receive college credit for these courses. We also could develop various credentialing programs at our community colleges and integrate agriculture into more college curriculums, creating programs such as agricultural engineering, agricultural economics, etc.

South Jersey has the potential to end its economic stagnation through its agricultural traditions if our leaders could see past petty politics and biases. What would it look like for South Jersey to be an “Agricultural and Life Sciences Corridor”? Our region could become an industry leader!

Joseph F. Ingemi, Jr. resides with his family in Hammonton, where he works as a technology consultant and serves as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University. He is a US Army veteran and holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Duke University. He is active in regional non-profits. The opinions expressed are strictly his own.


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