The Jersey Fresh marketing program run by the state’s agriculture department suffered heavy cuts last year and has had to make big adjustments to keep recognition of the label growing.
Facing another tight fiscal year, officials say funding will remain steady this year, but produce suppliers are hoping for more.
“As far as this season goes, Jersey Fresh is a big concern,” said Ben Casella, field representative for the New Jersey Farm Bureau, Trenton.
“They don’t have quite the resources that they’ve had in the past due to the state budgets over the years, but hopefully the name and some local promotion will keep the product in demand.”
The Jersey Fresh budget, which once topped $1.2 million, has been slashed over recent years to its current low point of $150,000.
“It was a breathtaking cut, but Gov. Christie shows signs of being pro-agriculture,” said Peter Furey, executive director of the New Jersey Farm Bureau.
Furey said that in an atmosphere of “absolute fiscal austerity” throughout the state’s budget, many in the department are thankful that further cuts have not been made.
“It was cut severely in the previous two or three years,” he said. “What that $150,000 allows is enforcement upgrading and some limited continuity with point-of-sales materials, which is important to keep that continuity in the program.”
Casella agreed that the new administration of Gov. Chris Christie has expressed support for the Department of Agriculture.
“The agricultural aspect of the operations budget wasn’t cut as drastically as it has been in the past, and he has made comments that he would like to restore the Jersey Fresh funding,” Casella said.
“I’m not really optimistic that it’s going to return, but I definitely think we have the governor’s support.”
Casella explained the state has been successful getting the Jersey Fresh program to the point of being an icon for the country, but he said continued funding is needed to keep the public aware that Jersey Fresh produce is available.
“It’s a program that needs constant monitoring, funding and plain advertising to the public that it’s available,” he said.
“There is a big push for local produce but that is … not really clearly defined, whereas ‘Jersey Fresh’ specifically describes it as from New Jersey.”
Casella said that translates to cuts in advertising, principally on television.
“That was scaled back to radio. Now the radio has been scaled back to some print media,” he said, noting that the program still participates in some regional trade shows in New England and the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit.