West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio Leaders Gather for Agriculture Roundtable

L-R: Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, WV Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt, Mountaintop Beverage CEO Jeff Sokal and Ohio Director of Agriculture Brian Baldridge.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt and West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) staff recently held an Agriculture Roundtable with Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, Ohio Director of Agriculture Brian Baldridge, along with other agriculture industry partners, to increase and improve communication among the states and to discuss shared industry issues.

The three agency heads met in Morgantown, WV for a day-long event which started with a roundtable discussion on topics including foreign animal disease, regional dairy production, and farmland preservation. Commissioner Leonhardt commended both states for their continued cooperation.

“Collaboration is a cornerstone of progress,” said Leonhardt. “As the agriculture industry faces challenges, whether it be losing farmland to development or animal disease threats, by working together and across state lines, we are doing the most to ensure we have agriculture successes in our respective states and region.”

Leonhardt commended Ohio and Pennsylvania on their avian influenza (AI) responses and encouraged them to continue to seek USDA National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program (NAD Prep) funding opportunities. The cooperation across state lines has been valuable to West Virginia, one of two states where avian flu has not been detected, as preparation and training exercises continue.

“Continuing with open lines of communication with our neighboring states is critical to staying informed on shared agricultural issues,” said Ohio Director of Agriculture Brian Baldridge. “There are no boundaries when it comes to the health and safety of our nation’s plants, animals, and food supply. I look forward to future roundtable discussions with West Virginia and Pennsylvania, continuing to learn how to strengthen agriculture together.”

“The partnership between Pennsylvania and its neighbors continues to be integral to our shared success and the success of our farmers throughout the region,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding. “As we look to cultivate resiliency and opportunity in the food system, it is critical that we are cultivating shared knowledge, initiatives, and actions together that benefit our diverse agriculture sectors.”

Discussions continued on dairy production, an industry West Virginia has been working to revive and where Pennsylvania and Ohio rank 8th and 11th,, respectively, in production nationwide. Areas of concern were infrastructure improvement in the Northeast, market access, and finding conditions to keep dairy producers competitive. Mountaintop Beverage CEO Jeff Sokal gave the agriculture leaders a tour of the state-of-the-art beverage manufacturing facility that opened in Morgantown in 2022. The facility uses an aseptic process to produce shelf-stable dairy and other beverage products. The 330,000 sq. ft. facility employs 130-plus team members and is strengthening the dairy infrastructure in West Virginia.

Future roundtables are being planned among the states to address additional topics and continued collaborations.

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.