Young Farmers and VDACS unveil Farm Seekers program

Have you ever wanted to break into farming, but didn’t have the resources to begin? Or maybe you already have farming experience, but are looking for land to expand your operation? Agriculture remains a diverse and challenging industry, and farmers exist at all different experience levels. As older farmers retire and look to transition their farms, steps must to be taken in order to preserve Virginia’s number one industry. This principle paved the way for the Certified Farm Seekers program.

The Certified Farm Seekers program is a collaboration between Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, funded by the Virginia Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Coalition Project. It is a self-guided program that strives to provide individuals seeking farming opportunities with the tools needed to successfully demonstrate their farming commitment and vision to interested landowners. After completion, participants will be expected to produce a resume, business plan, and demonstrate on-farm experience. Five modules are available as resources to assist in accomplishing these goals: Introduction to Whole Farm Planning, Business Management, Land Acquisition and Tenure, Marketing, and On-Farm Experience. This is NOT a course to teach people how to farm, but is designed for all farmers, including beginning, transitioning, and established.

The benefits for beginning farmers are apparent, but as a transitioning or established farmer, you may wonder if you have any need for this program. The answer is a resounding “Yes.” One of the most exciting incentives is elevation in the Virginia Farm Link Database. Farm Link is an online database designed to bring those landowners interested in passing land on to the next generation together with those interested in gaining access to farmland and farming operations in Virginia. Those who are dubbed “certified” will receive special designation in the database, thereby increasing their chances of being contacted by a landowner. Other incentives include a one- time professional business plan review, social/networking opportunities with other farmers/landowners, and possibly cost-share in time with a transition mediator or attorney.

For more information, visit http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/preservation/seeker.shtml or contact:

Stefanie Kitchen
certifiedfarmseekers@gmail.com
(804) 290-1030

Ron Saacke
ron.saacke@vafb.com
(804) 514-4202

Kevin Schmidt
kevin.schmidt@vdacs.virginia.gov
(804) 786-1346

Land Preservation Opportunity for County Farm Bureaus

As part of Governor McDonnell’s new project to increase the amount of working farm and forestland in Virginia, Virginia Farm Bureau has been working with interested parties on the development of the new “Working Lands Variant” Conservation Easement from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.

Below is a letter from Matt Lohr presenting an opportunity and resources for those of you that may have interest within your county membership to hear more about an option for preserving your land.

Please contact Trey Davis, Assistant Director of Governmental Relations, at (804) 290-1017 or trey.davis@vafb.com if you have further questions with the information contained in the letter.

New Legislation Provides Grants to Beekeepers

On March 30, 2012, Governor McDonnell signed into law legislation from the 2012 session of the Virginia General Assembly that created the Beehive Grant Fund. Grants from the fund, which will be administered by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), will be available after January 1, 2013.

The fund will provide up to $125,000 in grants for Fiscal Year 2012-2013 and another $125,000 for FY 2013-2014. Beekeepers can get $200 per hive with a maximum of $2,400 per individual in grants. The grant program is official on July 1, 2012, however a beekeeper cannot apply for the grants until January 1, 2013. One of the reasons for this is a beehive would not have enough time to get established and last through the winter if it was started in July.

Registration procedures and the general requirements to qualify for the grant will be published later in the year and will be distributed to interested stakeholders, including the various local beekeeper associations. Interested beekeepers may add their name to the notification list now by e-mailing VABees@vdacs.virginia.gov to be included in all future mailings.

Beekeepers will find information on VDACS’ apiary inspections, the Virginia Pollinator program and more at vdacs.virginia.gov/plant&pest/apiary.shtml. For additional information, contact Keith Tignor at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, 804.786.3515 or keith.tignor@vdacs.virginia.gov.

Workshop trains processors to meet requirements of federal and state food laws

Photo by Meer

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) today announced a training workshop sponsored by the Food Science and Technology Department of Virginia Tech, along with Virginia Cooperative Extension. The course takes place May 21-22 and is designed for processors of acidified food products such as pickles. The course will take place in Room 132 of Virginia Tech’s Food Science and Technology Building, located at 22 Duck Pond Road Blacksburg, VA 24061. The registration fee for the course includes a student text book, training, lunch on both days and examinations. The cost is $250 per person and space is limited to 36 people.

Topics include Microbiology of Thermally Processed Foods, Acidified Foods, Food Container Handling, Equipment Instrumentation and Operation for Thermal Processing Systems, Principles of Food Plant Sanitation, Principles of Thermal Processing, Recordkeeping for Product Protection, and Container Closure Evaluation for Glass, Flexible and Semi-rigid Containers. Instructors will give examinations throughout the course and will grade them quickly so that students are aware of their progress.

Successful completion of the Better Process Control School certifies supervisors in the requirements of the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Part 114, which states: “All plant personnel involved in acidification, pH control, heat treatment, or other critical factors of the operation shall be under the operating supervision of a person who has attended a school approved by the Commissioner [of Agriculture] for giving instruction in food handling techniques, food protection principles, personal hygiene, plant sanitation practices, pH controls, and Critical factors in acidification.”

“During the previous legislative session, several producers expressed an interest in having this training available,” said Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS Commissioner. “I am delighted that Virginia Tech is able to offer these courses at such a low cost. This will be a terrific benefit to those wanting to sell pickles or other acidified foods.”

Pre-registration and payment are required by May 14, 2012. A registration brochure is available by calling VDACS at 804.786.3520. For additional information, interested parties should contact Dr. Karleigh Bacon at 540.231.6806 or kbacon@vt.edu.

Virginia Farm Bureau achieves nine out of 11 budget successes

The General Assembly passed a budget on Wednesday, April 18. The next step is for the Governor to review the budget report and offer any amendments or veto the bill. If he signs the bill with no changes then the bill will become law on July 1, 2012.

Virginia Farm Bureau policy was achieved on nine out of 11 on the budget amendments. This brings our final total of successful issues for the General Assembly to 43 out of 51 policy issues.

Where Farm Bureau Policy Prevailed in the State Budget

Coyote Program: $40,000 was added each year of the biennium to bring the funding to a minimum amount of $120,000.

Reforestation of Timberlands Program; Computer Program Needed to Operate RT Program: $130,000 was added each year of the biennium to increase the amount of state matching fund to a total of $557,570. In addition, the General Assembly provided $120,000 each year of the biennium to replace the dysfunctional computer program used to distribute the funds to landowners. This was necessary to keep a functional RT Program.

Soil and Water Conservation District Operational and Technical Assistance Funding: The General Assembly restored $2.046 million for each year of the biennium for district operations. The General Assembly further requested the Secretary of Natural Resources to convene a stakeholder group to develop recommendations for a long-term adequate, consistent and reliable funding formula for local Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The General Assembly also prohibited the State Soil and Water Conservation Board or Department of Conservation and Recreation from changing any district boundary lines until after the General Assembly had time to respond and act upon the recommendations of the study.

Virginia Cooperative Extension: Both the House and Senate appropriated an additional $500,000 each of the fiscal years for a total of $1 million for the biennium.

Weights and Measures Program: The General Assembly eliminated the per device fee for weights and measures inspections. They added $250,000 for the first year of the biennium to the program to address the $2 million gap that has existed in the program for the last several years.

Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund: The General Assembly maintained the $1 million in funding for each year of the biennium.

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services International Marketing Opportunities: The General Assembly maintained the $260,000 each year of the biennium to support international marketing opportunities for Virginia agriculture and forestry products.

Beehive Grant Program: The General Assembly appropriated $250,000 to support the legislation creating the Beehive Incentive Grant Program.

Conservation easement workshops scheduled for December and January

Over the past two years, Governor McDonnell has made the preservation of working lands a priority for his administration. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has recently posted the online registration for the next two “Conservation Easement Workshop for Working Lands” sessions. These workshops, led by Secretary Todd Haymore and Commissioner Matthew Lohr, are a great opportunity for farm and forest landowners in Virginia to learn more about conservation easements and see if it is a good idea for their farm and get questions answered. This past spring the first one was held in Rockbridge County, and we had good attendance from actual farmers in that section of the Valley. The next two sessions are as follows:

December 13, 2011: Pittsylvania County at Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex in Chatham

January 5, 2012: Dinwiddie County at Eastside Community Enhancement Center in Petersburg

For more information, visit www.vdacs.virginia.gov/preservation/workshop.shtml