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With potato crop up, W.Va. ag chief thinking beans

Register-Herald photo by Chris Jackson West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick at the 4-H Building during the State Fair West Virginia in Fairlea last Thursday.
Register-Herald photo by Chris Jackson
West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick at the 4-H Building during the State Fair West Virginia in Fairlea last Thursday.

FAIRLEA, W.Va. — As an industry, agriculture years ago fell behind coal and gas, chemicals and glass, but in today’s push for more locally grown foods, farming is making a comeback.

Farming gets a push from Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick, who last year plowed new ground with potato production at Huttonsville State Prison and the state’s first aggregation station for potatoes in Cabell County.

Helmick, using a mantra from his campaign days, said the state has a $6 billion opportunity, in that its residents consume that much more food than is produced in the state.

“There’s a significant opportunity,” Helmick said late in the week at the State Fair of West Virginia. “We have tillable land in West Virginia. We’ve got to develop a workforce, but we can sell the product.”

By working in the state’s prison system, Helmick has a ready workforce, but he’s looking beyond the years of their incarceration to trained farmers who can commercially produce vegetables for wholesalers.

“We want to help them get to a point where they will be able to put together a business plan and they’ll become individual entrepreneurs,” he said.

Helmick can measure success by the bushel when it comes to potatoes.

One third-generation Preston County farmer netted $128,000 from 18 acres of potatoes…

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