CHERRY HILL, NJ — A Cherry Hill resident will lead New Jersey’s agricultural department. Joe Atchison III is set to begin the role following the retirement of his predecessor, who began the position in 2009.
Atchison joined the New Jersey Department of Agriculture in 2005 and became assistant secretary in January 2022. Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher’s retirement becomes effective Saturday, when Atchison will assume his duties.
Only seven people have served as New Jersey’s secretary of agriculture since 1916, when the Department of Agriculture was formed. Although the governor has the final say in who serves the role, many secretaries have served multiple administrations.
Former Gov. Jon Corzine confirmed Fisher for secretary in 2009, but he retained the helm under Chris Christie’s and Phil Murphy’s administrations. The State Board of Agriculture must ultimately select a secretary for the governor’s approval.
“While the agricultural community is losing a fierce advocate and friend,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement, “I am confident that Assistant Secretary Joe Atchison III will lead the Department with diligence and dedication. … Joe has played a critical role in ensuring that the importance of our agricultural heritage and industry is communicated throughout the state.”
Fisher left an “illustrious mark” on New Jersey agriculture, Atchison said in a statement.
“His ability to understand the broad range of sectors,” Atchison said, “and having an exceptional knowledge of the legislative component of the position, is a unique gift that has benefited farmers and agriculture-related businesses in immeasurable ways during the last 14-plus years. Looking forward, the Department’s goal is to continue to advance the industry well into the future.”
Atchison joined the department as a marketing specialist. Through the years, he advanced to coordinator of agricultural marketing and then to division director of marketing, before becoming assistant secretary.
As assistant secretary, Atchison oversees the department’s fiscal, IT and human-resources units. He also fulfills the duties of secretary when the secretary is unavailable.
The state agricultural department is tasked with promoting and protecting the state’s agricultural and agribusiness. The agency oversees several vital aspects of New Jersey life, including school-meal programs, conserving soil and water resources, and protecting farmland from development.