The West Virginia
Agriculture Advisory Board and its steering committee set out last year to
develop a five year-strategic plan for West Virginia agriculture. The final
report released April 15 was a grassroots effort which included input from
over 850 participants who either took a survey or attended one of 14
regional meetings. From the data gathered, the report concluded we must
focus on specific areas to maximize the effort of agricultural
stakeholders. The three main areas are connecting producers to market
opportunities, creating infrastructure needed to grow the agriculture
economy and developing the next generation of agricultural industry
producers to new market opportunities will help create new business, as
well as scale up existing. To reach these markets, farmers must understand
federal regulations as well as obtain crucial certifications like Good
Agricultural Practices. Once these producers come into compliance, they
will have to network in order to pool resources, as well as share knowledge
of best practices.
opportunities are not the only targets. Government institutions must throw
their resources into the mix to help grow our agricultural sector. This
includes building business clusters, as well government institutions
themselves sourcing from West Virginia farmers. The Fresh Food Act and
State Parks Farm-to-Table Dinners are a step in the right direction.
opportunities are identified, West Virginia producers will need the proper
infrastructure to tap into them. This includes the developing of co-ops for
processing and selling to help producers tackle larger orders, expanding
their capacities in the process. The next step in the supply chain is food
distributers who have shown commitment to sourcing from local producers.
Having the entire food network working together is key to growing West
restrictions, like the federal rules regarding the transportation of meat
across state lines, must be amended to foster growth. We cannot forget
about non-agriculture infrastructure like broadband. Access to these all
utilities, including the internet, are essential to the modern-day farmer.
Luckily, the state legislature and Senator Shelley Capito are working towards
market opportunities will all be for not without the next generation of
agricultural leaders. The training grounds for those who will take up the
mantle of feeding the world starts with FFA and 4-H programs. The good news
for West Virginia, despite a shrinking population, FFA has seen all-time
highs in membership. West Virginia is clearly doing something right, but we
must do more to develop and spur interest in STEAM-based careers. Our
schools should look to develop alternative education curriculums to meet
tomorrow’s workforce needs.
should also explore creating business mentorship programs to pass down
first-hand knowledge to the next generation. As more and more producers are
finding their children do not want to take up the family passion, farmers
are often desperate to find someone to take up their life’s work. Veterans
are a perfect group to pass knowledge and resources onto. Connecting the
dots between those with knowledge to those with passion is how we grow a workforce.
Farming can be easily act as the pilot project for these types of programs.
A lot of folks are
doing great things to improve agriculture in West Virginia. What we were
missing was a road map on how to work together. This plan has helped
identify and prioritize agricultural issues which will have the greatest
impact on our agricultural economy. What we must avoid is this plan
becoming just another study to sit on a shelf and collect dust.
The creation and
implementation of this plan will fall to the steering committee appointed
by the Agriculture Advisory Board. This includes the West Virginia
Department of Agriculture, West Virginia Farm Bureau, USDA Natural
Resources Conservation Service, West Virginia Conservation Agency, WVU
Extension Service, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and
Design and West Virginia State University Extension Service.
But we for this plan to be successful, we
need all stakeholders to lend their expertise during execution. We look
forward to the challenge. We look forward to working with you.
Kent A. Leonhardt
Commissioner of Agriculture