As Washington D.C.
continues to tackle the task of passing a comprehensive 2018 Farm Bill,
West Virginia farmers anxiously wait in anticipation while important
programs hang in the balance. At first glance, one may think these programs
minorly affect the Mountain State, but that cannot be further from the
truth. Previous farm bills have netted West Virginia $17 million for
conservation efforts, $1.9 million for Specialty Crop Block grants and
351,391 West Virginians rely on monthly assistance from the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In addition, $120 billion for invasive
species control and $200 billion for management of preventative disease
outbreak for the U.S. may be discontinued without a new bill. Clearly, if
Washington cannot move beyond their differences, not only will West
Virginia farmers lose but so will those who consume the food they produce.
The USDA defines
the Specialty Crop Block Grants program as designed to enhance the
competitiveness of specialty crops within the United States. Specialty
crops can be anything from maple syrup to lavender depending on the state.
Essentially specialty means crops that are not widely grown. This matters
in the Mountain State because we do not have the landscape to grow cheap,
in-expensive, high yield crops. Instead, our state has shifted its focus
toward high-end, specialty crops which yield a higher per pound gross
profit. Therefore, our farmers maximize the limited real estate in West
Virginia. Why this program matters because many farmers lack the capital
needed to start up these types of operations. Without these grants, several
successful agribusinesses would not exist today as used to cover large
expenses that are barriers to the business or to test a product.
As West Virginia
continues to lead the way with our Veterans to Warriors to Agriculture
program, the United States Department of Agriculture has taken note. Within
the 2018 Farm Bill, language exists that lays out veteran farmers as a
priority. From our program, we have proven that agri-therapy can help our
service men and women heal from the unseen wounds of war. At the same time,
veterans can be a solution to a growing age gap and lack of new farmers in
our country. As the USDA makes federal resources available for these types
of programs, a state that has one of the highest per capita veteran
populations will surely benefit from this new vision.
From the rolling hills to the vast
forests, West Virginia is one of the most beautiful states in the nation.
Although, invasive pests like the emerald ash borer insect or the
multiflora rose bush have created problems for our farmers, state parks and
forests. For example, federal resources are being matched with state funds
to combat Japanese barberry in Cacapon State Park. Without these federal resources
we have no way to slow these pests down and more pesticides will be
necessary to combat the challenges that will ensue. If future generations
are to enjoy West Virginia’s natural beauty it will, invasive pests
programs will be a part of that equation.
agriculture is a popular buzz word these days, but not easily defined. In
general, it means using our resources without exhausting them. In a state
with an abundant access to fresh water, conservation and the efforts of the
Natural Resources Conservation Service is vital to our state. From
addressing food deserts schools to assisting our farmers with the
implementation of conservation practices, the Farm Bill provides much
needed resources and technical assistance. This is only possible through
shared resource programs which are authorized through the bill. Without
these programs, many of our schools would have not started farm-to-school
programs and West Virginia would not be leading the effort to clean up the
Chesapeake Bay watershed through an entirely voluntary approach.
We may only play a
small role in our nation’s agricultural might, but our 20,600 small, family
farmers play a vital role in our state’s economy and local communities.
From the poultry industry in the Eastern Panhandle to the local farm stand
providing their neighbors with fresh produce, our farmers grow $800 million
worth of food annually. These farmers rely heavily on the assistance
authorized within the Farm Bill. If Congress fails to pass a new version,
the consequences will affect consumers and farmers alike. What hangs in the
balance is a safe, reliable food system. With a safe, reliable food system,
you have many problems. Without one, you have one problem. Congress must
act and they must do it soon.
Kent A. Leonhardt
Commissioner of Agriculture