By KENT A. LEONHARDT
WV Commissioner of Agriculture
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As Washington D.C. continues to tackle the task of passing a comprehensive 2018 Farm Bill, West Virginia farmers anxiously wait in anticipation while important programs hang in the balance. At first glance, one may think these programs minorly affect the Mountain State, but that cannot be further from the truth. Previous farm bills have netted West Virginia $17 million for conservation efforts, $1.9 million for Specialty Crop Block grants and 351,391 West Virginians rely on monthly assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In addition, $120 billion for invasive species control and $200 billion for management of preventative disease outbreak for the U.S. may be discontinued without a new bill. Clearly, if Washington cannot move beyond their differences, not only will West Virginia farmers lose but so will those who consume the food they produce.
The USDA defines the Specialty Crop Block Grants program as designed to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops within the United States. Specialty crops can be anything from maple syrup to lavender depending on the state. Essentially specialty means crops that are not widely grown. This matters in the Mountain State because we do not have the landscape to grow cheap, in-expensive, high yield crops. Instead, our state has shifted its focus toward high-end, specialty crops which yield a higher per pound gross profit. Therefore, our farmers maximize the limited real estate in West Virginia. Why this program matters because many farmers lack the capital needed to start up these types of operations. Without these grants, several successful agribusinesses would not exist today as used to cover large expenses that are barriers to the business or to test a product.
As West Virginia continues to lead the way with our Veterans to Warriors to Agriculture program, the United States Department of Agriculture has taken note. Within the 2018 Farm Bill, language exists that lays out veteran farmers as a priority. From our program, we have proven that agri-therapy can help our service men and women heal from the unseen wounds of war. At the same time, veterans can be a solution to a growing age gap and lack of new farmers in our country. As the USDA makes federal resources available for these types of programs, a state that has one of the highest per capita veteran populations will surely benefit from this new vision.
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