BERNARDSVILLE, N.J. (CBS 2) — After the past few years of unseasonable weather, vegetable blight, and a bad economy, farmers in the Tri-State are struggling, but for some, help has come in the form of a partnership with a former adversary, CBS 2HD’s Don Dahler reports.

New Jersey is losing an average of 20 farms a year. Mark Kirby works his family’s 400 acres in Somerset County. “It’s extremely hard. It’s a small farm. Around here in New Jersey, one mistake and you have a big trouble down the road,” he said.

Three years ago, Kirby and his neighbor, Jim Laine, became part of an experiment to plant some of their acres with sunflowers. What’s surprising is who their partner is in the endeavor: the Audubon Society.

Conservationists and farmers are rarely on friendly terms, but nine farmers across the state have devoted some of their land to growing sunflowers.

Once the seeds are ready, the farmers share the use of some specially-equipped combines that strip the plants of their seeds, which are then bagged and sent off to be sold as birdseed at Audubon stores and other places around the state.

The farmers win because they have a guaranteed buyer for the seeds, the Society wins because they share in the revenues of those sales, but mainly, it’s the birds that win.

Those revenues are funding wildlife refuges. Troy Ettel of the Society came up with the idea. “I would say that through this project, the relationship that New Jersey Audubon has been able to develop with farmers has surpassed anything that we’ve been able to do before.”

Farmers in Northern New Jersey are seeing better profits so far, because they don’t have as many deer eating the young plants. Laine and Kirby are optimistic. ”

“I think it’s going to be a very good success in the future,” Laine said.

“It’s one of the greatest working possibilities that we’ve had in a long long time,” Kirby said.

The fields of sunflowers are attracting not only birds, but tourists. “There’d be 30 cars at the right time of day just stopped and people taking pictures. They’re quite impressive,” said Laine.

The project is blooming too, growing from 80 acres of sunflowers to 140 in just three years.

The farmers are experimenting by surrounding the sunflowers with crops more appealing to the deer so they leave the sunflowers alone.

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Locations To Buy Seeds:


Greenland Landscape Co., Inc. – We are a 60 year old family run Garden Center and landscape construction company and are licensed Landscape Architects in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Our large and fully stocked Garden Center has provided thousands of Bergen County residents for many years of enjoyable gardening. Our 300 acre Weiss Farm in Allamuchy produces the finest hardwood bark mulch available as well as sod and organic vegetables. Soon we will be growing biomass fuel grasses as well.

Lorrimer Sanctuary – 760 Ewing Avenue, Franklin Lakes, NJ


Rancocas Nature Center – 794 Rancocas Road, Mount Holly, NJ


Wild Birds Unlimited – 1619 Kings Highway N., Cherry Hill, NJ – We specialized in backyard birdfeeding bringing people and nature together. We offer birdseed, birdbaths, birdfeeders and all the necessary hardware to hang them and keep the squirrels off. We can answer all your questions relating to backyard birdfeeding, and are familiar with the local birdfeeding scene.

Cape May

Cape May Bird Observatory – 600 Route 47 North, Cape May Court House, NJ

Nature Center of Cape May – 1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ


Wild Bird Center – 44 Clinton Road, West Caldwell, NJ


Wild Birds Unlimited – 415 Egg Harbor Road #6, Sewell, NJ


Sergeantsville Grain & Feed – State Highway 523 North, Sergeantsville, NJ


Plainsboro Preserve – 80 Scotts Corner Road, Cranbury, NJ


Wild Birds Unlimited – 500 Route 35, Red Bank (Middletown), NJ – At Wild Birds Unlimited Red Bank, it is our goal to show you how to turn your yard into a backyard birdfeeding habitat that not only brings song, color and life to your home, but also benefits the wild birds and the environment in your area.


Pet Agree Pets – 521 East Bay Avenue, Manahawkin, NJ – Pet Agree Pets is a one-stop shop for all your pet (furry, aquatic and feathered) needs as well as supplies for your outdoor feathered visitors.

Wild Birds Unlimited – 941 Route 37 West, Toms River, NJ – Phone: 732-281-2473


Weis Ecology Center – 150 Snake Den Road, Ringwood, NJ


Laine Farm (also a participating farmer) – 865 Amwell Road, Hillsborough, NJ – Phone: 908-369-4967

Raritan Agway – 77 Thompson Street, Raritan, NJ

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary – 11 Hardscrabble Road, Bernardsville, NJ


Brodhecker Farm (also a participating farmer) – 2 Branchville-Lawson Road, Newton, NJ

Liberty Farm (also a participating farmer) – 101 Route 645, Sandystone, NJ

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