CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Those who want to see growth for West Virginia’s agriculture are looking for common ground.
The state Agriculture Advisory Board, previously inactive, was relaunched Monday with heightened interest by Gov. Jim Justice, a champion corn grower, and new Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt.
As set in code, the board is supposed to meet at least four times a year with the involvement of the governor, the agriculture commissioner and the director of the West Virginia University cooperative extension service.
The goals of the board, which got organized Monday, are to cooperate to help West Virginia’s agricultural system reach its potential — and also to keep wires from being crossed among groups with similar scopes.
Justice, whose family has for many years run large-scale agriculture holdings, campaigned in part on a platform of reaching West Virginia’s potential in that field.
“I’ve farmed all my life and I have big ideas on how to grow agriculture jobs in West Virginia. I want to bring them to the Agriculture Advisory Board. I want to find a niche crop that we can market to the world. Why can’t we have the Almost Heaven Tomato? It can be the next Vidalia Onion or Idaho potato,” Justice stated in a release about the return of the Agriculture Advisory Board.
“Agriculture is a sleeping giant. We have so many opportunities for commercial feedlots on reclaimed mine sites, possibilities for taking advantage of our waters, and the chance to solve our forestry issues— it’s all right at our fingertips.”
Justice’s chief of staff, Nick Casey, described the governor’s enthusiasm as the board met for the first time Monday afternoon.
“He’s a farmer. He makes it very clear he’s a farmer,” Casey said. “The governor has been very clear what he thinks about this. He wants his governor staff to be involved with this.”
Casey also noted that the farmer is one of the symbols on West Virginia’s official state seal.
Leonhardt, who was elected Agriculture Commissioner last fall, said the industry expands beyond simple farming.
“It’s not just a farm, it’s also the processing of our foods, it’s the marketing of our foods. We have to make sure we’re thinking very broadly. What are our citizens in West Virginia eating?” Leonhardt told the group.
West Virginia needs to not only think about the state of agriculture right now, but how it affects the state’s health and economy in the future, Leonhardt said.
“I’m convinced if you’re talking farm to table, farm to school, you have to talk about the benefits to health. What are we saving on down the road,” he said.
Leonhardt, too, described a common hope with the governor that West Virginia’s agriculture will thrive.
“The governor and myself through the campaign and after taking office have stated over and over again how agriculture can be a part of the resurgence of the economy of the state of West Virginia.”