***MULTIMEDIA PACKAGE*** Assembly Approves Democratic Measure to Help Preserve Cranberry Production by Easing Burdensome Permit Costs

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Celeste Riley and Assemblyman Gilbert L. “Whip” Wilson that would ease some of the cost burdens for cranberry and blueberry harvesters in the Garden State passed the full Assembly Thursday.

“Some of our environmental regulations and associated costs have the potential to render cranberry production in New Jersey economically non-viable,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/ Salem). “We need to do everything possible to maintain our reputation as the Garden State by helping cranberry and blueberry operations stay alive and thrive.”

Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Robert Andrzejczak (D-Atlantic/Cape May/Cumberland) and Assembly members Vincent Mazzeo (D-Atlantic) and Marlene Caride (D-Bergen) issued a multimedia package Thursday on the measure as well.

The bill (A-1958) would designate agricultural fields, such as blueberry fields and cranberry bogs, as “active” if any combination of crop production, maintenance, or renovation has taken place on the field within five years. This move would significantly reduce the costs associated with New Jersey’s stringent environmental standards for anyone wishing to restart cranberry or blueberry operations on an existing field.

Currently, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) considers any cranberry bog that has been un-harvested for five years to be abandoned.

Riley and Wilson noted that reactivating the bog requires an Individual Wetlands Permit, something that is very expensive to apply for and is rarely granted. The cranberry expansion permit includes mitigation costs of up to $30,000 per acre and far exceeds all other normal costs of new cranberry bog construction. This has prompted a number of multi-generational family farms to consider leaving New Jersey for the Eastern Canadian provinces.

“New Jersey is currently the third largest cranberry producer in North America, and these family farms are regional economic engines,” said Wilson (D-Camden). “The last thing we want to see are multi-generational family farms being forced to consider leaving New Jersey for Canada due to restrictive DEP regulations.”

In addition, the bill would provide that the lack of a commercial harvest or production of a crop on an agricultural field would not be a determining factor in designating the agricultural field as abandoned and, therefore, the department would be required to issue the necessary permits to any owner of an agricultural field that had previously been lawfully used for the production of cranberries, or lawfully maintained or renovated for that purpose.

The bill also requires the DEP to issue the necessary permits or letters of exemption for cranberry production when the department determines within the 25 years prior to the bill’s enactment the agricultural field to be abandoned because it had not produced a crop for five years, even if it was being maintained or renovated for agricultural purposes at the time of its designation as abandoned.

The measure now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

The multimedia package consists of a video of Andrzejczak, Mazzeo, Caride and Stephen Lee III, the president of Lee Brothers, Inc., discussing the legislation and cranberry farming in New Jersey.

The video can be accessed directly via our website — www.assemblydems.com — or by clicking here.

The audio file is available upon request.

A transcript of comments is appended below:

Stephen Lee III, President, Lee Brothers, Inc.:
“Well, we’re a multigenerational farm. I’m the fifth generation. My great-great-grandfather came here from Ireland in 1868. Cranberries are indigenous to New Jersey. They’re an obligate hydrophyte, which means if you find a cranberry plant growing, you’re in a wetland, by definition. And, he just expanded out the area where cranberries were able to grow and produce a crop. And we build dams and hold the water higher than natural and then harvest them in the fall.”

Assemblyman Robert Andrzejczak (D-Cape May), Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman:
“Right now we are at Lee Brothers farm and we’re standing in a cranberry bog. It’s my first time in a bog; it’s a really interesting experience and it’s important for not only myself but a lot of the other Assembly members and members of the ag[riculture] committee to be out here.

“We have a lot of bills that go through our committee and obviously they’re all dealing with agriculture, but quite a few come through dealing with this type of farming. So, it’s important for us to get out here and really educate ourselves and know what we’re voting on.”

Assemblywoman Marlene Caride (D-Bergen), Commerce and Economic Development Committee Vice-Chair:
“Our job is to try to create law that will benefit the state. But if we don’t have the knowledge or the information that our farmers can provide us, we can’t create good law. So, it’s important that we have a good relationship, so that when we create law in the State of New Jersey, it’s well thought out, it’s reasonable and it benefits our economy. Because, if we’re working together with our farmers, then we’re benefiting the economy of New Jersey.”

Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo (D-Atlantic):
“Right now, the DEP has some type of regulation where, after five years, if a bog isn’t being used, that basically they might have to shrink their croppage. Right now, we’re trying to increase that, and legislation has to be put in place to let the cranberry farms do their business and that is growing the business.”

“So, the legislation that we have in right now would give them more land to be able to turn into cranberry bogs. So this legislation is important for New Jersey because the more that the farmers to be able to farm; gives them more opportunity to be able to grow and expand and be more profitable. With that, they’re also going to be hiring more people and we’re going to be putting people back to work and it’s going to be great for the economy as well.”