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Two of New Jersey agriculture’s influential annual gatherings are joining forces for the first time in January 2012 to create a formidable showcase of the Garden State’s agrarian advances.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey have co-located their respective conventions to form a massive convention-trade show. While both groups will conduct separate programs, the convention programs will offer attendees a greater choice of educational programs, a wider range of discussion topics and an enlarged trade show.

The convention-trade show is slated for the week of Jan. 17, 2012, at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. The Vegetable Growers Association convention will kick off the proceedings Tuesday, Jan. 17, and run through Wednesday, Jan. 18. The state convention will begin on the morning of Jan. 18 and run through the afternoon of Jan. 19.

Highlighting the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s state agricultural convention will be listening sessions in which a subject-area expert will outline an issue and entertain questions from the convention delegates. This year’s listening session topics are:

Succession Planning. This will feature tips on the best way to transition your farm to the next generation.

Marketing With Social Media. Manhattan-based social media expert Peter Shankman will speak to the delegates about making effective use of outlets like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in marketing their farms.

Crop Insurance and Risk Management. The federal government’s increasing reliance on crop insurance instead of direct disaster payments will be addressed by U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse. A farmer and former secretary of agriculture in Delaware, Mr. Scuse is responsible for all federal farm service programs.

Farmland Preservation. State Agriculture Development Committee Executive Director Susan Payne will lead a discussion of the ongoing efforts to preserve farmland in the Garden State.

In addition to the listening sessions, there will be an educational session for farmers on the latest research and growing practices from soil fertility, food safety, plant growth and the environment, farm safety, the brown marmorated stink bug, wildlife agritourism and direct marketing as well as sessions on production of vine crops, transplants, peppers, greens, herbs, sweet corn, tomatoes and blueberries.

Held since 1914, the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s legally mandated annual convention of the state’s entire agricultural industry is truly an exercise in democracy at the grass-roots level.

As specified under New Jersey statutes, each year delegates representing all sectors of the industry must gather to elect two members to New Jersey’s State Board of Agriculture, elect farmer-members to the Fish & Game Council, and set agricultural policy for the New Jersey Department of Agriculture through a series of formal resolutions voted on by the delegates.

Founded in 1955, the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey’s mission is to disseminate knowledge of the growing and marketing of vegetables through cooperation with the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and Rutgers Cooperative Research & Extension, the New Jersey and U.S. departments of Agriculture, and all other existing organizations and committees working for or interested in the vegetable industry in the Garden State.

Each year, the Vegetable Growers Association hosts a convention-trade show during which farmers attend educational sessions, earn continuing-education credits and learn about the latest advances in fruit and vegetable research. The New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and Rutgers Cooperative Extension plan and coordinate these sessions.

New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher said that the State Board determined that a Vegetable Growers Association proposal to merge the conventions would benefit all sectors of New Jersey agriculture by bringing the policy aspects of the State Convention together with the broader educational elements of the Vegetable Growers Association gathering.

“Our convention is all about hearing the opinions and views of members of New Jersey’s agricultural community to help us best utilize the department’s resources to serve this very important industry,” Sec. Fisher said in a mid-November press release. “We welcome the opportunity to widen the scope of attendees and expand our ability to hold listening sessions. Hopefully, everyone will find the additional seminars and a trade show beneficial in helping them improve their individual operations.”

Joe Marino, president of the Vegetable Growers Association of New Jersey, added that combining the conventions also will help the state’s farmers stay abreast of recent developments even in tougher economic times.

“The recent economic climate has made it tough for farm families to expend the money to attend numerous conventions and trade shows typically held during the off-season,” Mr. Marino said in the release. “We hope that by combining two events into one, convention participants will experience a greater value in attending. If this proves successful, we hope that other New Jersey agricultural entities will want to join us, and make this convention the one ‘must-attend’ event of the year.”