State agriculture and forestry officials recently outlined some challenges and accomplishments for leaders of the state’s largest farmers’ advocacy organization.
Dr. Basil Gooden, Virginia secretary of agriculture and forestry; Sandy Adams, commissioner of agriculture and consumer services; and Bettina Ring, state forester, addressed the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board of directors at the board’s Feb. 23 meeting.
“Certainly, it’s been an interesting few months,” said Ring, who cited an active fire season in 2016 and state budget cuts that prompted the Department of Forestry to eliminate five positions and sell some properties that were not state forestland. She also noted the 100th anniversary of the department’s nurseries.
“We raised 33 million loblolly pine seedlings last year,” as well as hardwood species.
In the coming months, Ring noted, the department will be working with stakeholders to identify potential new sources of revenue.
Adams commended Virginia farmers who encouraged state legislators to pass SB 1195, which authorizes the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to carry out the federal Produce Safety Rule. The rule sets standards for safe growing and handling of fruits and vegetables for interstate commerce. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has requested that states administer the rule, which would affect about 400 Virginia produce operations.
“In general, I think most of our producers would prefer” to have VDACS administer the rule, Adams said. “We come at it from a focus of educate first and regulate second.”
Gooden, whose family raises cattle in Buckingham County, identified his priorities for Virginia agriculture and forestry as economic development, community leadership and enhanced technology. In the area of economic development, he noted that Virginia has awarded Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund grants for 44 projects to date. The grants are matching funds that represent a cumulative private investment of $333 million. Grant projects help support more than 1,600 jobs in 33 localities, Gooden continued, and the projects average 82 percent use of Virginia-grown products.
“As a producer, I am excited about these types of numbers when we talk about agriculture,” he said.
As VFBF Young Farmers Program participants prepared for their Feb. 24-26 Winter Expo in Washington, Gooden called that program, along with others like FFA, 4-H and Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results, “vital to continue leadership in Virginia agriculture.”