Our January seminar in Richmond featured numerous highlights. Meeting Virginia’s Ag Secretary Bettina Ring and her staff ranked at the very top. Our meeting with Secretary Ring was the first we had with a government official. Virginia agriculture is in great hands with her experience, leadership and team. Secretary Ring graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Forestry and Wildlife and also has an MBA from James Madison University. She is well-versed in Virginia Agriculture having served as the State Forester of Virginia under former Governor Terry McAuliffe before her current appointment as Secretary.
Secretary Ring gave our VALOR group an overview of Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and the Virginia Department of Forestry. Agriculture generates more than $70 billion for Virginia’s economy annually making it Virginia’s largest industry. Forestry contributes over $21 billion ranking 3rdjust behind tourism. Combined, agriculture and forestry provide nearly 450,000 jobs for the Commonwealth.
Along with supporting agriculture opportunities within the state, VDACS and Secretary Ring do a lot of work internationally working to increase export opportunities. She has been on trade missions with the United States Department of Agriculture to China and South Korea and was recently in Europe learning more about pollinators.
In terms of her goals for the rest of her tenure, she plans to focus on forest and farmland retention and highlighted Virginia’s Century Farm Program. She emphasized the need to focus on helping protect the Chesapeake Bay. She is also excited about the opportunities urban agriculture presents and looks forward to helping implement the newly passed Farm Bill.
Secretary Ring was accompanied by her Deputy Secretary Brad Copenhaver, her Assistant Secretary Heidi Hertz and Executive Assistant Brandon Hatcher. All four were extremely generous with their time especially given how busy the opening week of session is. It was great to learn more about the ins and outs of Virginia agriculture and for us to be able to share our VALOR experiences with them. It is awesome to have their support for the VALOR program.