Leonhardt excited about the agriculture future in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The top man with the state’s Department of Agriculture believes the future of farming in West Virginia is bright.

Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt said this year, the enrollment in the Future Farmers of America organization is the highest it has ever been in the Mountain State.

Kent Leonhardt

“We have a record number of students enrolled in FFA in West Virginia of all time,” he said speaking on MetroNews Flagship station 580-WCHS in Charleston Thursday.

According to Leonhardt agriculture and farming have been growing in a variety of ways in recent years. The Commissioner said he’s worked to have the state Department of Agriculture embrace and cultivate that growth. He added although many of those FFA students will explore the world of agriculture they won’t all become farmers. But, there are plenty of other ways to work in agriculture related industries besides driving a tractor.

“Mountaintop Beverage in Morgantown is doing aseptic milk processing and creating 300 jobs. Farmers markets have tripled and we’re working with non-profits like the Food and Farm Coalition and the Farmers Market Association. You’ve got research, you’ve got chemists, you’ve got microbiology, you’ve got economic development and you’ve got agro-tourism,” he explained.

Along with those expanding areas of agriculture, the state’s education system has also embraced the new focus on the ag economy to try and train more people for it.

“Parkersburg, WVU, West Virginia State, and Potomac State are all trying to develop ag programs. That just shows the enthusiasm for agriculture in the state of West Virginia,” he said.

Protecting West Virginia farmland from potentially bad foreign actors is also on Leonhardt’s radar. He’s pushing for Legislation which would potentially block the sale of farm land in the state to certain foreign operators. He admitted it’s a complicated issue and he’s unsure if it can pass.

“Fortunately for West Virginia, I’ve checked and we don’t have any of that going on at this time, but we want to be wary of that. It’s a very complicated issue. You don’t want to take away a person’s property rights away from selling to whomever they want, but we also want to make sure we protect agriculture,” he added.

Leonhardt compared it to the situation of the Chinese attempts to make large scale purchases of natural gas production in West Virginia a few years back, something he said he also adamant opposed.

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