CHARLESTON, W.Va. — If you are in the market for some very large potato processing equipment or a truck intended to transport chickens, now is the time to strike.
The state Department of Agriculture has both available after a change of administration and a change of philosophy.
If you are in the market for four genetically-marvelous cows imported from Oklahoma to West Virginia, then you are likely out of luck. The state is keeping those, anticipating that it wouldn’t make up the original purchase price.
The purchases were made under former Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick’s administration, which wanted to make some investments to provide direct help to West Virginia farmers.
When new Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt’s administration came in last January, it started trying to get rid of some of those purchases, saying the department can’t afford them and that the role of the department should be to coordinate with farmers rather than performing aspects of their jobs.
“The role the department wants to take is facilitation,” said Crescent Gallagher, spokesman for the agriculture department. “People are already doing these things. They just need to start talking to each other. One agency can’t do it on their own. It’s not something the government should be doing.”
State Delegate Amy Summers, who ran an interim committee meeting last year focused on the purchase of the cows, said the change in philosophy is more suitable for a state trying to tighten its belt.
“I absolutely think it seems like a step in the right direction,” Summers, R-Taylor, said in a telephone interview. “While the other steps were kindhearted and wanted to help the farmer, they weren’t showing a good return. They were not productive.
“We have to be prudent and invest where we can get a return. Or at least break even. Not cost us money.”
The highest-profile of the purchases was probably the Potato Demonstration Project, which had been a focal point of Helmick’s efforts.
A potato “aggregation point” in Huntington was seen as being the first of seven or eight similar facilities across the state. The one that was placed in Huntington was to serve 35 to 40 potato growers in surrounding counties.
The potato equipment will now be for sale if it can’t be repurposed in short order, Gallagher said in an interview at the agriculture department’s headquarters in Guthrie. “We decided it’s not something we have the resources for any more.”
One challenge, Gallagher said, is the size of the potato processing equipment. He described it as two or three stories tall. “It’s such big equipment,” he said. “It’s massive. It has to be bolted to the floor. It takes expertise to run. We had only run the machine a couple of times.”
Farmers could bring their potatoes to the center in crates and the machine would clean the product for market, removing rocks, sticks and dirt then skinning and bagging the potatoes for wholesale.
The potato processing equipment — which also included crates and other materials — originally cost about $1 million.
Agriculture officials think the main potato processing machine is likely to find a new owner — although Gallagher said the sale price is hard to judge — but some of the accessory items like the crates are unlikely to fetch a desirable resale price. A related walnut cracker is finding a new home with the Black Walnut Festival.
Also available from the state is a poultry processing trailer. Just go to www.govdeals.com.
The trailer was already on the site for a while but did not get any bids. It’s about to go back up for another try.
The trailer, which had an original $160,000 purchase price, was meant to go from farm to farm for the convenience of small farmers who wanted to get their chickens ready for sale.
About that time, though, concerns about the spread of disease such as avian influenza took hold. A trailer that might move not only equipment but also infection began to seem like not such a great idea.
“AI is the real deal,” Gallagher said. “The poultry industry itself is careful about moving from farm to farm.”
The agriculture department also concluded there are already available poultry processing centers in the private sector that receive U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections.
The four cows were bought last year as an attempt to introduce some genetic variation to West Virginia’s breeds. The cows were purchased from Oklahoma for $33,000.
Critics said the cows represented unfair competition for West Virginia cattle farmers. The agriculture department, at the time, said the cattle had superior bloodlines and could be used to help West Virginia cattle farmers improve their herds.
The Leonhardt administration says it won’t be bringing in more out-of-state cows, but it won’t be parting with the ones already purchased. They’ll remain at the state’s Huttonsville farm.
“There’s no reason to sell because we wouldn’t get anywher near what we bought them for,” Gallagher said.
They’re among 21 bulls and 600 breeding cows owned by the state.
“They’ve got to have cows. But they don’t need $33,000 cows. “I just knew it was another poor investment,” said Summers, who is, herself, an Angus farmer.
“What the state was doing was they were getting in competition with us by buying these cows from out of state. The state was competing with the market, and that’s not their role.”