Recently the current VALOR class had the rare opportunity to gain an in depth understanding of agriculture in Southeast and Eastern Shore of Virginia with some of the global impact the goods and services produced here offer. The adventure began around peanut, cotton and pork production, the importance of education, recognizing your talents, the application of resources in a positive manner, and the infrastructure this state is utilizing to promote growth.
The importance of peanuts and cotton were among the first things which we were exposed. Birdsong Peanuts has been handling and shelling peanuts since the 1930’s. We toured this marvelous structure filled with modern technology with a shell of beautiful history. The legacy, present market status and future trends were discussed by Charles Birdsong and Dell Cotton. The future is looking bright for this heart healthy snack! After travelling a few miles it was time to experience how cotton is ginned. I had the privilege of introducing Tom Auphin and Johny Parker. These guys support information applied to planting, through growing season recommendations, to setting harvesting dates. We experienced the throughput of cotton modules processed into fiber that is baled and ready to sell. Explanations were given about how cotton graded and the qualities looked for with buyers. Cotton truly is the fabric of our lives! That evening dinner was provided at a local high school by their Ag teacher. He has been working with FFA for many years. The stories of student success in competitions and application of knowledge through experiences to career choices was incredible. It was easy to recognize the years of accomplishment both he and his students were proud of.
Smithfield Foods pork is a Virginia product with a tradition of excellence. The tour of their plant was amazing! Having grown up in this area, I have long known of the importance of their business, the deep care for the environment, the animals and the communities in which they operate. I remember when they started investing, building and hiring for their hog production. Today Smithfield has a commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions while increasing quality. Touring the processing facility it was obvious the pride and skill present with an attention to detail that the employees have for their jobs. The scale and efficiency they achieve daily is impressive. Smithfield is involved with many projects to help people and the environment both locally and globally. The responsibility for sustainable improvement makes them a valuable part of Southeastern Virginia and a global leader of change for the better!
Dinner was a special treat provided by the “2018 Farmer of the Year” recipient, Paul Rogers. A wonderful evening had been planned consisting of food, knowledge, experience and fellowship. Glen Rountree of Bayer/Monsanto and Mr. Rogers spoke about the importance of technology, its ability to make an operation more profitable while managing precious resources to sustain nature and humanity for generations to come. Examples of the reduction in chemical, nutrient and water usage over the years were given. Rides were available to people that had never ridden in a tractor capable of steering itself while controlling seed rates and nutrient application through GPS, onboard computers, and controller interface.
We were able to spend some time at the Purdue facility that ships grain. The fact that they had their own train engine helps explain the scale of what they do. Multiple railroad spurs, 18 I think, and the ability to load a ship in three days. Soybeans could be in another country in a month or two after leaving here. Then it was off to the Eastern Shore. We talked with some growers that explained unique logistics, labor, and urban sprawl challenges to farming in that area. Potatoes and vegetables are important value add crops. Dublin Farms which grows, harvests, bags and markets their own brand potatoes explained how their farm functions and the equipment that makes it possible. Bill Jardin grows organic sweet potatoes that are used locally and operates a store that mainly promotes Virginia grown agriculture. Some time was applied to Chincoteague where the Eastern Shore AREC director informed our class of current research projects that were pertinent to the area.
Looking forward to the next trip,