As I was finally finishing this blog entry on the threshold of another fast approaching VALOR engagement, I discovered that today is National Ag Day as designated by the Agriculture Council of America. According to their website, today we should all be encouraged to:
- Understand how food and fiber products are produced
- Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products
- Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy
- Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry
Our November VALOR trip to the Tidewater area was a clear reminder of the “agnormity” and the diversity of our industry in Virginia and just how little I really know about agriculture.
It was an opportunity to walk the busy and sometimes unpleasant floor of Smithfield’s hog processing plant. It was an up close and personal glimpse of cotton being ginned and baled at Commonwealth Cotton Gin and peanuts being shelled and sorted at Birdsong Peanuts. It was the experience of riding in a self- driving/GPS guided tractor in the pouring rain at the farm of Paul and Pam Rogers and exploring the potato processing barn and equipment with the Hickmans at Dublin Farms. It was standing at the foot of a commercial freighter being loaded at Perdue’s deep sea export terminal in Chesapeake and eating freshly made sweet potato pies at the Jardine’s Quail Cove Organics.
The processes were interesting and enlightening but the people we met who shared their stories and passion on behalf of their industry were the true attractions. Beginning in Suffolk and ending on the Eastern Shore at Chincoteague, we heard from owners, managers, teachers and agency leaders about the history, successes and failures, and the current challenges on their farms or in their industry. Discussion with these experts spanned a range of topics including global trade, competition in export markets, environmental impacts and carbon emission, rail versus barge freight, farm technology, crop rotation, and GMOs.
January brought our VALOR class to Richmond at the beginning of the 2019 Virginia General Assembly session. Time was spent with the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring and her team who further highlighted the significance of agriculture to the state’s economy and its contribution to the global economy. At $70 Billion, it is the largest industry in the commonwealth. Add Forestry and it exceeds $90 Billion. We also had time with Governor Northam who discussed more specific areas of interest at the request of some of our VALOR fellows. And a special appreciation goes to classmate Mike Aulgur who guided a group of us through the Pocahontas building to introduce us to our legislators before we ended our day at the annual Virginia Agribusiness Council dinner and reception.
While in Richmond, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation also welcomed our class for a full day. There was a presentation from Andrew Smith (VALOR Class I) on lobbying and there was an interactive video interview session with Norm Hyde, a “how to” on talking in front of a television camera. Admittedly, this exercise took me out of my comfort zone, but it revealed something more. It was a wonderful introduction to my fellow VALORians as they discussed their subject matter with proficiency and enthusiasm, articulating their responses to impromptu questioning and defending their positions on topics of importance to them. VALOR Class IV definitely has a very diverse group of talented individuals that work both directly and indirectly with the agriculture industry to ensure its continued visibility and viability.
So on this National Ag Day and thanks in part to VALOR, I can attest to understanding a little more about how agriculture products are produced and I appreciate the incredible diversity of Virginia’s agriculture and its overall impact on the Virginia economy. I am also grateful to get to know those who work in and on behalf of agriculture in Virginia and for the career opportunities that the industry has offered me over the years.
“Agriculture… is the first in utility, and ought to be the first in respect.” –Thomas Jefferson