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Chesapeake Bay-View Agriculture

VALOR V, COVID 0

Chesapeake Bay-view agriculture was the focus of the first VALOR V field visit. From day 1, the group knew we’d see a different view of agriculture in scope and type. What we didn’t know was how agriculture in the area had responded to meet the challenges presented by COVID.

Alabama sings “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.” When it comes to the Chesapeake Bay-view, the new version is “You Can’t Keep a Good Farmer Down.” From cotton that was washed while harvesting to an overnight change in marketing, these farmers shifted gears to address world events.

The weather extremes in the region were evident from our discussions with the Barlow family, local gin employees and grower Philip Edwards. Historically cotton was an important crop in the area until the boll weevil demolished the yields. Once control methods were developed for the pest, the crop grew from 100 acres in 1979 to nearly 100,000 acres across Virginia in the current year. The group saw lots of wet cotton on our travels due to the 6 inches of rain that fell the day before. This, coupled with the impact of an earlier planting season and dry conditions during the boll formation, causes great fluctuations in the productivity and profitability in the industry. As with most commodities, getting bigger (re: $850,000 cotton harvester) or finding innovative markets provides sustainability for these farmers.

Diversification was a huge theme from these growers—not only the type of products grown, but how you marketed these products. The Sturgis family thru the ShoreBreeze Hydroponics operation represented the shift to new production systems. The shift was designed to meet the need for locally sourced produce. COVID forced another shift in operations thru new marketing methods to move their product that was not going to institutional buyers. The operation implemented virtual field trips to highlight the benefits of hydroponics to the local school kids.

Bill Jardine with Quail Cover Organics provided some valuable lessons regarding perseverance. He grew his organic operation from scratch in dealing with some huge challenges man-made and four-legged main. Organic certification costs and the ability to deal with weeds in these production systems are on-going challenges. The four-legged issues caused by deer are noticeable each year. (Observations from the Shenandoah Valley: sweet potatoes are the first entree of a deer’s garden buffet). The remedy: sunflowers to irritate the deer’s noses. Now that COVID has hit, Bill made the switch to curbside sweet potato donut making. The smell of these delicious treats draws you in as soon as you enter the premises.

Supporting these farms are the Agriculture and Research Extension Centers. We visited the Tidewater and Eastern Shore AREC centers. These partnerships with VT, VSU and other regional and national organizations provide cutting edge technology necessary to keep our farmers at the forefront of their industries. Just one example of the technology was the feeding systems for hogs at the Tidewater center. The use of wireless transmitters allows the center to determine which hogs are using feed the most efficiently.

While the group did not get to experience local seafood production, VALOR 5’s experience in eating local food was a highlight of the trip. Former ag teacher Ronald Daughtry knows how to dish the pork BBQ while dishing important life lessons. This gentleman’s humility and passion for his students and the local ag community is an inspiration to all those who call him a friend.

COVID was all round us in changing the way the group and panelists operated. It may have changed the way we interacted with each other. It Didn’t Keep a Good Man down, rather it Built Up a Good VALOR Fellow.

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