Randy Yohe Published

Farmers, Ag Leaders Discuss Challenges For W.Va. Farming

West Virginia Grown

There are several pressing issues facing the West Virginia farm community. One is finding alternative crops to make money.

On Agriculture Day at the Capitol, first generation farmer Tiffany Ward listed harvesting maple syrup and growing hops for local breweries. She said she and her husband switched to farming about five years ago when Raleigh County’s once thriving coal industry went fallow.

“My husband was a coal miner and we needed a back up plan and hops were not a thing,” Ward said. “Craft Breweries are growing now at a rapid pace so we decided to start growing hops.”

Another issue for West Virginia agriculture is the state of the state’s lab. State Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt says the state’s top scientists can’t safeguard food and more in a crumbling, 70-year-old lab facility. He says farmers small and big, along with the consumer, will suffer without the $55 million agriculture laboratory renovation his agency has requested.

“There’s water testing done, food safety, we help boost tourism by caring for the trees in our forests.” Leonhardt said. “And, if you have a pet, we make sure that the label on that food package gives your pet the nutrition that it needs.”

The commissioner says Gov. Jim Justice’s proposal that the state combine the labs for agriculture, the state police, the medical examiner and public health labs into one entity, simply won’t work.

“Nobody has shown me how combining them is going to save any money,” Leonhardt said.

Another issue for Ward is that the state needs to help small farmers like her with guidance so they don’t have to learn from scratch.

“We have different growing zones,” Ward said. “To find somebody in West Virginia who knows about that would have helped us in the beginning to grow a little faster.”

Leonhardt said the plans are in place to help small farmers, but they are limited by being underfunded.

“We have some field reps out there for small farmers to get started, but not enough to cover the state,” he said.

Leonhardt says the answer here is to fully fund the West Virginia Grown program, developed to best market West Virginia grown and made products to consumers. Leonhardt says the current funding does not take the program to its full potential.