Op Ed: Hosting SASDA Big News for West Virginia

Recently, I assumed the role of President of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture (SASDA), an honor bestowed upon me by my peers. As part of my duties, we must plan the 2022 annual meeting, and of course, I saw this an opportunity to bring my colleagues right here to the Mountain State. Therefore, I am happy to announce that for the first time in decades West Virginia will host national agriculture leaders. We hope to showcase the best of West Virginia, as well as continue our mission to elevate West Virginia on a national agriculture policy stage. We want to show regional leaders and international partners that West Virginia farmers are ready to scale up our agricultural industries. This is big news for West Virginia, and I promise we will not squander it away.

Every individual state department of agriculture is a member of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA). NASDA is divided into four sub-regional bodies to foster cooperation and partnerships between states. West Virginia along with 13 other states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico belong to SASDA. What makes this organization unique is ten of the twelve elected Commissioners or Secretaries of Agriculture belong to SASDA. This makes SASDA one of the strongest and most accountable agriculture policy groups in the country. Together we work to garner support for legislation and initiatives that further develop our states’ and the nation’s agriculture industries.

Of the possible attendees for the 2022 meeting, there are 15 members of the Southern United States Trade Association (SUSTA). SUSTA is our partner who provides valuable trade assistance for West Virginia producers who wish to pursue foreign markets. These are the folks who understand what it takes to scale up successful businesses which in turn brings economic growth to our region. Hosting these folks right here in the Mountain State can help display our resources leading to potential opportunities for economic growth. This is how we bring true economic development to West Virginia by bringing other agriculture leaders right in our back yard. It not only helps us pursue domestic and international trade agreements, but it also lets us leverage each other’s assets and innovations to help our local producers.

Our administration has continued to find ways to lay an economic framework by reducing burdens and barriers on businesses. Now we are taking those efforts to the next level by working with our regional partners to further develop American agriculture policy. That only happens if we develop meaningful relationships with our regional leaders and collaborate on an agreed agenda to take to our congressional delegations. Once we push forth that agenda, we can get to the heart of federal regulations and finally remove those barriers from our producers. Our voices are louder together. For too long, the federal government has dragged its feet to modernize federal agriculture policy. West Virginia agriculture is ready for business – it’s now time to get government out of the way to let these producers thrive.

Under my administration, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture continues to advocate for agriculture as an economic driver for West Virginia. We have collaborated with producers, elected officials, state and federal agencies and our regional partners to bring more assets to our state. All these efforts are part of our plan to invigorate agriculture in West Virginia. Therefore, you know I am not blowing hot smoke when I say hosting SASDA is a big deal for the Mountain State. Hosting the annual meeting not only lets us further develop our industries by bring other national leaders here, it allows us to lead discussions on national agriculture policy that will foster economic growth. It is time we pursue domestic and international ventures with a national audience to grow our agriculture sector. Hosting the 2022 SASDA annual meeting accomplishes that mission.

Kent A. Leonhardt
West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture

The West Virginia Department of Agriculture protects plant, animal and human health through a variety of scientific, regulatory and consumer protection programs. The Commissioner of Agriculture is one of six statewide elected officials who sits on the Board of Public Works.