WEST CALDWELL, NJ - West Caldwell resident John “Jack” Kupcho was honored with a Distinguished Service Citation for his contributions to New Jersey Agriculture at the State Agricultural Convention in Atlantic City on Feb. 4.

Kupcho served as the Essex County Agricultural Agent at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension program for many years. He is currently retired and holds the title of Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University.

“Jack Kupcho changed the way farmers do business in New Jersey, helping to guide the industry toward direct marketing and high value crops,” said New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher. “The state agriculture industry owes a lot to Jack. He has been an innovator who has inspired younger agriculture agents as well as farmers.”

Kupcho began his career as the Essex County Agricultural Agent in 1963. Kupcho assisted commercial vegetable growers in Bergen, Essex, Morris and Passaic counties in changes to their production methods to maximize resources.

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One of his innovations was the introduction of clear plastic as a soil heating mulch resulting in higher, earlier and more quality yields of early sweet corn, cucumbers, squash and eggplant. He encouraged production of high value crops on small land areas including greenhouse tomato growing. He urged growers to trial test new soil-less mixes, which resulted in growers adopting the use of the lighter peat-lite mix, resulting in lower cost of production, more uniformity, higher quality and less bulk handling. 

At the time, commercial vegetable growers were using little or no herbicides, so Kupcho brought them the results of current research, which led to widespread and proper use of these chemicals, helping to cut labor costs. He also guided growers to shift from selling solely wholesale to opening roadside markets, increasing their produce sales by 50 to 100 percent.

As Chairman of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Management Agents at Rutgers’ Cook College, Kupcho developed the Master Gardener Program for Northeastern New Jersey. He organized leaf composting and ground water education programs for community leaders. He made changes in the Newark Urban Gardening Program to increase the efficiency and provide a more effective educational delivery system for the federally and state-funded urban project. Under his direction, in 1988 this program was chosen for the Take Pride in America Award. Kupcho accepted the award from then-president Ronald Reagan at a ceremony on the White House lawn.

As chairman he was responsible for providing program leadership and staff development for 57 agents and program associates in 20 New Jersey counties. During his tenure, he hired 21 new agents located in both critical agricultural and urban areas of the state.

Kupcho has been active in many agricultural organizations – he is a member of the Essex County Board of Agriculture, National Association of County Agricultural Agents, Agricultural Agents Association of New Jersey, Northeast Agricultural and Natural Resource program Leaders Committee, Northeast Community Resource Development Program Leaders Committee, and Northeast Center for Rural Development. He is a former chairman and member of the National Extension Committee on Policy, Subcommittee on Community Resource Development and Public Policy and was involved with the New Jersey Flower and Garden Show.

Kupcho earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Ornamental Horticulture from the University of Tennessee. He received his Master of Science in Environmental Science and Urban Planning from Rutgers University.