New Hampshire may not have a reputation for farmland the way Midwestern states do, but agriculture is a pillar of our identity. The executive department that oversees New Hampshire farms does a lot more than just meat inspections (though they do plenty of those). Today, we take a trip inside the Department of Agriculture.
NOTE: This transcript was generated using an automated transcription service, and may contain typographical errors.
Ben Henry: [00:00:02] If you're in the market for beekeeping equipment or some hay bales or if you need to hire someone to pull horseshoes off a horse. There is one publication where you can find out all of that stuff in New Hampshire. It's called The Weekly Market Bulletin. It comes out every Wednesday. It's got news and announcements and whatnot but the part I like to read is the advertisements. Anyone who subscribes to The Bulletin can put an ad in there. It's like Craigslist for farmers.
Bulletin: [00:00:26] Custom lumber siding with wood Mizer portable saw mills 12 years of experience will travel seedless straw ideal for strawberries garlic lawns etc. Also good for bedding outside dogs. Spiked tooth harrow twenty five dollars J D planter 25 dollars.
Ben Henry: [00:00:43] What I like about it is that it changes with the seasons in the spring you see ads for the first cut of hay in the fall you see the harvest in the winter you see firewood.
Bulletin: [00:00:52] Complete sets of sap buckets. Approximately 80 sets five dollars each.
Ben Henry: [00:00:57] The Bulletin is published by The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture markets and food and I might be one of the longest running publications in New Hampshire. The first bulletin came out in 1919. The department claims they have never missed a single Wednesday since then.
[00:01:12] Hello and welcome to Civics 101 New Hampshire. Today we're going to talk about what the Department of Agriculture markets and food does besides publish a bulletin. This is a department in the executive branch that regulates New Hampshire's farms and it looks out for the safety of people eating the vegetables and meat that come from those farms.
Shawn Jasper: [00:01:31] The way I like to put it is that we're really the whole department is really about consumer protection.
Ben Henry: [00:01:36] This is Shawn Jasper. He is the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture. The department is made up of six divisions and they spend a lot of time inspecting things.
Shawn Jasper: [00:01:45] Our Animal Industry Division is really about making sure that the meats that people are are buying there aren't pathogens in there that there aren't diseases in the animals that may spread to humans. So we do blood tests on all the poultry and all all the cattle in the in the state of New Hampshire.
Ben Henry: [00:02:04] Employees from the department even go out and test the feed that farmers in New Hampshire buy for their livestock just to make sure there's nothing in there that shouldn't be in there.
Shawn Jasper: [00:02:12] We license all the pesticides applicators in the state of New Hampshire and regulate the pesticides themselves to make sure that people who are applying pesticides are doing so according to the law and that they know what they're doing.
Ben Henry: [00:02:25] The world is full of chemicals and diseases and stuff that you do not want in your food. And the Department of Agriculture is responsible for keeping that stuff out of your food. It's kind of a thankless job if they do it perfectly. Nobody knows.
Shawn Jasper: [00:02:38] No that's that's true and we're very lucky in New Hampshire. I think we do a very good job. You don't hear about these foodborne illness outbreaks in the state.
Ben Henry: [00:02:48] One thing that does cause a headache for farmers is not disease but birds eating their crops.
Shawn Jasper: [00:02:54] It's not unreasonable say there could be up to a million dollars a year of damage just in in corn.
Ben Henry: [00:03:00] It's something I've never thought about but yeah birds are out here eating money. Here's another thing I would never think to be worried about when you're filling up your gas tank and that meter takes upwards two gallons three gallons four gallons. How do you know that that's accurate. What if the gas station is ripping you off and not giving you the amount of gas that you pay for.
[00:03:20] Well the Department of Agriculture are the cops on that beats. They have a division of Weights and Measures. Those folks regulate any type of commercial device that measures out the stuff you buy. So at the grocery store the scale that says how many pounds of bananas you're buying that has to be occasionally checked and calibrated by the department. So the department is everywhere. But although times have changed its core responsibilities aren't that much different than what they were 100 years ago when the department was created.
Shawn Jasper: [00:03:49] Well I've always enjoyed history so one of the things that I learned in going back and looking at the Department of Agriculture reports from a hundred years ago that you know all things old or new again. Farmers markets started really World War One and I had never heard of kale until a few years ago.
[00:04:11] But looking in that report finding out how much kale production there was in the state of New Hampshire.
Ben Henry: [00:04:16] Starting in the mid 1800 New Hampshire had a Board of Agriculture which was just a group of farmers. But in 1913 it was replaced by the Department of Agriculture and the legislature began writing all these new laws to regulate farms to protect consumers. The heyday of New Hampshire agriculture was the 1930s and 40s.
Shawn Jasper: [00:04:37] And we had some really big farms some huge truck farms and huge poultry operations that really were national in scope. You know we're just constantly trucking products into into Boston and we had a real impact on the market. The Hood family started producing milk here and in New Hampshire and dairy.
Ben Henry: [00:04:59] Ever since those glory days the number of farms in New Hampshire has been going down partly due to competition from other parts of the country and partly because other industries are simply more attractive for workers these days.
Shawn Jasper: [00:05:11] Getting people who want to work is a real challenge and that continues to be one of the largest challenges to agriculture because you can only charge so much for your product and you can only pay your help so much so it's it's a balancing act.
Ben Henry: [00:05:27] New Hampshire will probably never be that dairy powerhouse that we once were. But farming is having a moment here. We've been riding the local food movement. People are willing to pay more now for food that's grown right here in New Hampshire. Shawn Jasper says the Department of Agriculture is one leg of a three legged stool that supports this resurgence of farms and New Hampshire. Another leg is the Farm Bureau which is not part of the government. It's a group that advocates for farmers in New Hampshire the third leg is theU.N. aged cooperative extension. This is like a side office of the university located in each county that does agricultural research and provides education about farming but also gardening science nutrition.
[00:06:08] Kelly McAdam is a field specialist in the Belnap county office.
Kelly McAdam: [00:06:11] And so I work with farmers in Belmont County really kind of their general agriculture questions and I've been working more and more lately the past few years with women farmers and also beginning farmers.
Ben Henry: [00:06:25] Part of MacAdams job is to help people get started in agriculture. That means helping them navigate the Department of Agriculture is it regulations.
Kelly McAdam: [00:06:32] So you know you can't just stick up a sign at the end of the driveway that says you know organic vegetables. There's regulations around that and they have to follow those procedures.
Ben Henry: [00:06:43] The biggest hurdle for entering the industry though whether you want to grow apples or raise pigs is getting land to do it on.
Kelly McAdam: [00:06:50] It's hard for a new farmer to be able to afford land in New Hampshire. I look at the Lakes region and I have some folks I want to start farming but they're like Well where do I go to buy land to farm in the lakes region because there's all these competing interests. You know you can put housing lots on it or build a second home. So I feel like the land access is a pretty big issue.
Ben Henry: [00:07:22] Turns out the market bulletin that weekly publication is made by just one person. Hi I'm from New Hampshire public radio. Her name's Theresa Sheridan and meeting her felt like meeting a celebrity.
[00:07:31] I'm a big fan of a market bulleting.
Theresa Sheridan: [00:07:33] Thank you. I just wanted to say I appreciate for your work. Thank you. You like doing it. What what's your what's your favor like a section of the bill. I just like the layout putting all the different things and subjects and I've had to learn everything.