Three leading members of Virginia’s agriculture community were honored Nov. 29 with Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s 2017 Distinguished Service Awards during the VFBF Annual Convention in Williamsburg.
A Distinguished Service to Farm Bureau award was presented to Janice R. Burton of Halifax County. Distinguished Service to Agriculture awards were presented to Steve Sturgis of Northampton County and Sen. Emmett Hanger Jr., R-Mount Solon.
Burton retired from the VFBF board of directors in 2016 after serving 14 years as chairman of the VFBF Women’s Committee. During her tenure, the VFBF Women’s Program became a powerhouse fundraiser for the Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom program, and county Farm Bureau women’s committees made great strides in organizing educational and promotional projects in their communities.
“Janice always led by example,” VFBF President Wayne F. Pryor noted. “I can’t think of a Women’s Committee function during her tenure where she wasn’t present and giving her quiet direction. The program is extremely organized and is focused on achieving concrete goals as a result of her efforts.”
Burton worked for Virginia Cooperative Extension for 30 years. She and her husband, Thomas, are retired tobacco, dairy, corn and small grain producers. They still raise hay and lease farm acreage for vegetable production.
Steve Sturgis is a passionate advocate for farmers on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and statewide, and he’s long been recognized as a leader by decision-makers in Richmond. A fourth-generation farmer and president of Tri-S Farms Inc., Sturgis started his own 8-acre farm in 1979, took over his family’s farming operation in 2002 and has since doubled its size to 900 acres. Tri-S Farms grows 150 acres of corn, 400 acres of wheat and 450 acres of soybeans each year.
Sturgis has served as president of the Northampton County Farm Bureau over the past several years and is a past president of the Virginia Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services. As VDACS board president he also was an ex-officio member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors.
“Steve is a leader in promoting conservation practices,” Pryor said. “He leads by example in using nutrient management planning, buffer strips, no-till planting” and other practices. “In addition, he has worked to ensure that the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center has the appropriate facilities, equipment and research faculty to address production, conservation and other issues facing row crop and vegetable farmers.
“His common-sense, real-world perspective helped others on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors appreciate the value and need for investment at all of the area research and extension centers around the state.”
The Virginia Agribusiness Council and the Eastville Volunteer Fire Co. are other organizations that have benefited from Sturgis’ leadership. He also has served as a game warden for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and as a deputy for the Northampton County Sheriff’s Office.
Another true friend to Virginia farmers is Sen. Emmett Hanger Jr., who has represented agricultural producers in the Shenandoah Valley since 1983, when he was elected to the House of Delegates. Elected to the state Senate in 1996, he currently serves in key roles in the General Assembly that affect farmers, and he is considered a Senate expert on fiscal and agricultural policy. Hanger is co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a senior member of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee; Local Government Committee; Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee; and Rules Committee.
“Sen. Hanger fights for programs and issues important to the vitality of Virginia’s farms in the General Assembly,” Pryor said. “Farmers are fortunate that he is able to effectively share their perspective with other elected officials. The result is successful efforts to provide more funding for soil and water conservation districts since he was elected to the Senate. He’s also championed farmland preservation programs and worked to provide funding to them. And his budget amendments have been crucial to maintaining our state meat inspection program, increasing the budget for Virginia Cooperative Extension and restoring funds to the Reforestation of Timberlands program.”