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W.Va. agriculture chief pins hope on the potato

Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero Walt Helmick, Commissioner of Agriculture, hanging out at the West Virginia State Fair.
Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero
Walt Helmick, Commissioner of Agriculture, hanging out at the West Virginia State Fair.

FAIRLEA, W.Va. — Farming is one of man’s oldest endeavors, and West Virginia’s commissioner of agriculture is betting the farm that with some innovation, farm production can again be one of the state’s leading industries.

Walt Helmick, who was visiting the West Virginia State Fair on Tuesday, said his department is investigating developing a crop to grow in all 55 counties to supply the state’s tables with a West Virginia-grown product.

Helmick said he wanted a crop with a proven track record of success, and one that West Virginians will consume.

“We looked at onions; we looked at carrots,” he said. “We arrived at the potato. That’s the number one consumptive in the state.”

The commissioner wants the crop industry to take a new direction, which along with livestock production, will help the state gain on a $6 billion opportunity.

It’s a refrain Helmick has repeated since his campaign days — Mountain State residents consume $7.3 billion of food each year; the state produces “significantly less than $1 billion” of the food sold in the state.

And in that deficit, Helmick saw an opportunity to encourage the state’s farmers to grow not only crops, but an agriculture-based business.

After the potato became the crop of choice, Helmick found that Mason County had three essential things for the root vegetable to grow in abundance — the right average annual rainfall, the right average temperature and quality soil.

He chose five counties in the western part of the state…

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