Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Blog Action Day: The Jersey Tomato is Hurtin Too!

jersey tomatoThis summer Georgia and other southwestern states emerged from their prolonged drought by experiencing the nightmare of devastating floods.  It was shocking to see how volatile and changeable the climate of that region was becoming.  I counted my blessings that I lived in New Jersey because our moderate climate saved us from living through those types of extreme weather events.

During the summer my wife and I took a trip to Northern California.  We hiked through the dwindling Redwood forests and scaled peaks in Lassen Volcano National Park.   It’s beauty was at times overwhelming.  One afternoon we took a dip in the pristine Yuba River but we had to cut that short due to the raging 49er fire that destroyed over 50 homes and businesses.  We were happy to return home to New Jersey where the problems posed by wild fires and exceedingly dry climate are not that  great a threat.

In addition to a temperate climate another benefit New Jersey offers its residents is the famous Jersey Tomato.  Those with discerning pallets eagerly await the end of summer when farmers begin the harvest and bring to market the agricultural crown jewel of the Garden State, our beloved Jersey Tomato.  It is big, juicy and luscious.  It doesn’t require a sandwich or Hogi to sit upon.  Its is great with a touch of basil leaf or sitting a top a slice of fresh mootz, that Jersey slang for mozzarella cheese.  You can make an entire meal of it if you add some crusty Hoboken brick oven bread.  Yes, Jersey at its culinary lip smacking best.

One Saturday morning my wife returned from Abma’s Farm in Wycoff with the devastating news that their would be no Jersey Tomatoes this year.  Unusually excessive rainfall across the region had destroyed much of the crop.  We would have to do without our much looked forward to annual treat.  I was crushed.  I started to do a bit of research into this degustibus disaster.

I discovered that Jersey farmers are coping with heavy crop losses after steady summer rains saturated fields, creating an environment ripe for overgrown weeds, rot and disease.   The downpours damaged crops, from tomatoes, green bell peppers and corn, to barley, peaches and watermelon, decimating whole crops or severely reducing yield.

Wilfred Shamlin of The Courier Post reported on the economic impact the unusual weather had on some of the states farmers.  His report is an important anecdotal record of the economic distress changing weather patterns can cause.  The observations and quotes from farmers directly effected by this years extreme weather change is an important testimony on the risk of climate change and its impact on crop yields and economic solvency of small farmers agricultural businesses.

“The rains have just killed me this year,” said Tucker Gant, 51, a vegetable and fruit farmer in Elk, who estimates his total losses this year at nearly $220,000.

In Mullica Hill, Fred Grasso, 52, said late frost damaged his peaches and rot ran through his tomatoes, green bell peppers, zucchini and watermelon.  “Nobody has ever seen rain as drastic as this year, even talking to old-time farmers,” said Grasso, a third-generation farmer who estimates losses so far at roughly $50,000.

“Weeds are a big issue, especially in a wet year. When it’s time to cultivate, you can’t and when you finally get in there and cultivate, and it rains day after day, weeds set in and reroot because of the moisture,” Grasso said.  “Weeds steal nutrients from crops, grow tall and block out sunlight, and prevent plants from drying out after rainfall. And constant rain creates problem because the weeds grow faster and herbicides get washed away before they work.”

“It’s never been that bad as far as I can remember,” said Gant, pointing to water pooling in a field as he drove his pickup truck along a bumpy dirt trail toward 35 acres of barley overrun by tall weeds. “I have never seen water lay there more than two days. It should have been harvested, but you can’t harvest weeds taller than barley.”  Blueberry and peaches thrived in the wet weather but the same disease responsible for the Irish potato famine attacked South Jersey’s tomato crops.

“Farmers’ yields will be down this year because a lot of fruit out there wasn’t able to be marketed,” said Michelle Casella, an agricultural agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension for Gloucester County.   Gov. Jon S. Corzine has requested that 15 counties be declared disaster areas by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture after rain, hail, wind and even a tornado caused crop and property damage across the state. The designation would allow farmers with severe weather-related losses to apply for emergency low-interest loans.

This year’s hay crop was such poor quality that Gant marked down the price for landscapers, making 25 cents profit per bale rather than $1.50.   Though struggling, Gant and Grasso are bent on persevering as operating costs continue to climb. Gant’s losses include $30,000 on bales of straw for mom-and-pop stores that order 15,000 bales and sell it as decoration during the holidays. He grew enough straw to make 10,000 bales but he had to buy the remaining 5,000 bales from a neighboring farmer. Crop losses have cut into profits that the Gant and the Grasso family normally would have invested back into the farm. “We have cut every corner we can without hurting the business itself,” Grasso said. “We’re at just about the limit where we can’t cut anymore. I’m trying to conserve.”

Gant said he has depleted his retirement savings and supplements his income by working three days a week repairing tractor-trailers. He often works 16-hour days on the farm. His wife also works full-time.  He has trimmed unnecessary expenses, postponed farm equipment upgrades, and criticizes the federal government for coming to the aid of car dealers and other big businesses, but not farmers.

“Where’s the bailout for farmers?” Gant asked.

“When everything went into the toilet, my costs didn’t go down one bit,” Gant said.

Gant said he would need a $250,000 loan to bail out his farm.

Gant remains optimistic that he can ride out the recession. He’s planting seeds now so he can get barley, rye and wheat next spring.

“We’ll get there. It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “I believe in the Lord. I know He’s going to take care of me. That’s one reason I’m confident we can come back.”

As all farmers know, we reap what we sow.  We trust that Mr. Gant’s optimism and faith will help to restore the good fortunes of farmers and the hungry citizens of New Jersey.   We should also view this as an opportunity to begin the sowing the seeds to address the problems of climate change.  Even in an area as blessed as New Jersey.  Farmers livelihoods and a significant portion of the economy of New Jersey depends on the economic viability of small farmers.  I also have a selfish reason to address the threat of climate change.  I continue to crave the  taste of the sweet fruits of our farmers  yields and pray that the Jersey Tomato makes a reappearance on our dinner plates next summer.

This article extensively used the report of Mr. Wilford S. Shamlin at The Courier Post.

To Reach Wilford S. Shamlin at (856) 486-2475 or wshamlin@courierpostonline.com

You Tube Video:  Billie Holiday,Lets Call the Whole Thing Off

Risk; small businesses, farmers, agriculture, climate, Jersey Tomato

Riskrapper is pleased to participate in this years Blog Action Day.  The subject is climate change.  We hope you enjoyed the post.

More than 7000 bloggers have registered to participate and thousands more will join in the next 24 hours. There’s already buzz growing across the blogosphere and on Twitter in anticipation, with updates from around the world every minute about the upcoming event.

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October 15, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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