WV Officials: Farming is the Future
From an Article by David Beard, The Morgantown Dominion Post, Sunday, May 5, 2013
Delegate Larry Williams and others are looking in to what may seem an unlikely — and overlooked — direction to bring prosperity to West Virginia: Farming.
“It just has all kinds of potential,” said Williams, D-Preston. West Virginia’s annual food consumption spending totals about $7.1 billion, said Williams, state Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick and WVU Extension’s West Virginia Small Farm Center Program Leader Tom McConnell.
Only a tiny portion of that — about $500 million — comes from West Virginia farms. “Is there an opportunity?” Helmick asked. “Absolutely a huge and significant opportunity. Can we grow all $7 billion? No.” But it’d be realistic to increase in-state production to $1 billion, he said. The big question is how.
The Legislature will study possible answers during the 2013 interims, thanks to a resolution Williams authored — HCR 139. “Larry is a good example of the person that should carry the ban- ner for agriculture and the promotion of agriculture,” Helmick said.
That’s apparent on HCR 139, which drew 37 co-sponsors, including Finance chair Harry Keith White, Judiciary chair Tim Miley, Health chair Don Perdue, Majority Leader Brent Boggs, Majority Whip Mike Caputo, and a number of Republicans.
West Virginia isn’t known as an agricultural state, McConnell said. A large part of the agribusiness industry is devoted to cattle: About 65 percent of the state’s 23,000 farms have beef cattle, making it the second-largest agricultural enterprise after contract poultry.
But feeder cattle, Mc-Connell said, are shipped out of state to get fattened and finished. Meanwhile, West Virginians consume about 72 million pounds of beef a year — most of it from outside the state and c o u n t r y. Expanding slaughter-rendering processing facilities for beef and pork could create 2,585 jobs, McConnell said. Right now, this industry employs less than 150 people.
A WVU Extension study by McConnell estimated the potential economic benefit of raising and processing all the beef and pork in-state at 14,295 additional jobs, when factoring the direct, indirect and induced effects of the production. Indirect and induced spending are the economic ripple effects of the original spending, as the cash flows through additional hands.
One place to start could be the schools, Williams said. Preston County has the only approved school-based slaughter and processing facility, he said. “It would be a great place to start a pilot project to show it could be done.” Williams noted that Preston County Schools just received funding for a support facility for the vocational-agricultural department’s plant — $451,000 from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and $35,000 from the House of Delegates.
There’s also a need for more private facilities across the state, all three said. Another piece of the puzzle is fruits and vegetables. Since most farms are devoted to cattle, HCR 139 says, fruit and vegetable production has room to blossom.
If West Virginia farmers grew enough vegetables and fruits to meet 75 percent of the fresh seasonal produce needs of all West Virginians, the resolution says, it would create an estimated 1,330 jobs (519 jobs in farming and 398 jobs in food and beverage retail). The resulting increase in production would create an estimated $93.9 million in additional sales.
Helmick and McConnell note that West Virginia’s small farms can’t compete with the huge mega-farms in other states, so fruit and vegetable growing has to be approached on a regional and community basis, such as co-ops and direct farm-to-community sales. There may be a way to open new land to farming. Helmick said he’s meeting with officials from some southern West Virginia counties to talk about converting reclaimed mountaintop removal sites to farmland.
Along with land, the state needs more farmers, McConnell said. The WVU Extension Service exists to help with all this through e Education, support and vision. Williams is optimistic, too. “The sky’s the limit to this,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of planning, and some people that have some vision. We have everything we need to do it.”
Helmick agrees. “It is an exciting time for agriculture in West Virginia.”
Note from S. Tom Bond:
All this is great, but West Virginians are not going to want to buy fruits and vegetables if they think they may be affected by polluted waters or organic vapors from shale drilling. And they are not going to buy animals that have been killed or aborted or otherwise affected by it, either. Dairy has already been adversely affected in Pennsylvania. And, royalties are like caffiene, it stimulates by decreasing debt, but you get dependent on it, and it lets you down in the long run.
Lost Creek, a village a few miles south of Clarksburg, is proud of the fact it was once the largest shipping point for cattle on the B&O Railroad between St. Louis and Baltimore. We have great climate, good rainfall and suitable soils, but difficult hillsides. Obviously with the increasing world population, food will be in demand. They say the average item on your plate travels 1600 miles. If we don’t transition to another form of energy, transportation may become even more expensive.
Also, quite obviously the shale drilling effort will be exhausted in a few decades, but the residues and drilling platforms and roads and rights-of-way for pipe lines will be conspicuous for hundreds of years. Bless the legislature for good intentions, but their pieces don’t fit together.