A New Awareness for West Virginia Agriculture

The Free Press WV

Freshman college quarterbacks in their first season make a lot of mistakes. But every year after, they continue to hone in on their craft becoming the field commander of their dreams. Here at the department, we are finishing up our sophomore year. Just like that quarterback, we feel we have hit our stride after tremendous growing pains in our first year. In 2018, we have accomplished numerous goals and objectives on our path to becoming a more efficient, as well as responsive agency that helps spurs economic growth in the Mountain State. Here are just a couple of our most proud successes.

We did a lot of planning this past year. As a former intelligence officer, planning ensures missions are completed and soldiers get back to their families. As the Commissioner of Agriculture, plans help identify weaknesses and strengths, as well as opportunities for growth. The West Virginia Agriculture Advisory Board has set out to create a 5-year strategic plan for how to grow the agricultural economy in West Virginia. Five hundred people completed a public survey in addition to over 400 people who attended community stakeholder meetings to provide input. Our next step is to bring this data to the Legislature as we develop a final plan for early next year.

The WVDA, in collaboration with the West Virginia Department of Education and West Virginia University Extension Service, announced a partnership to expand market opportunities for farmers. Under a USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant, we will work together to develop a strategic plan for farm-to-school in West Virginia. The goal is to increase the availability of fresh foods in West Virginia schools, as well as new market opportunities for West Virginia farmers. We have a lot of hope for these efforts, but we can guarantee these plans will not sit on a shelf like so many other studies do. We promise to set achievable action items that help grow our agricultural economy.

Speaking of new market opportunities, in 2018 the WVDA relaunched the West Virginia Grown program. My team and I knew this program was being underutilized; we set out to revamp the program with new benefits and branding. Our first step was to gather input through online surveys and stakeholder meetings to help guide the expansion of program benefits, as well as bring new stakeholders into the process. After two rounds of voting, totaling more than 2,400 responses from producers and the public, the WVDA revealed the new logo for West Virginia Grown. We are already working through a second phase to incorporate what we are calling “affiliate members” to expand the branding’s reach. This will include restaurants, retail establishments and grocers who show a true commitment to local products. We know there is a $7 billion opportunity for growth through local food production; it is time we go after it.

As far as local health initiatives, we sought out partners and relationships in 2018 to expand on success stories. We know our efforts are working because partners have told us the department has never had this strong of a collaborative effort. In conjunction with Wheeling Health Right and Food Justice Lab WVU, we kicked-off the first year of the FARMacy Program on June 1st at the Wetzel County Hospital in New Martinsville. The program is encouraging patients to use produce in lieu of prescriptions for healthier outcomes. We also worked with the West Virginia Farmers Market Association, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources and the West Virginia State Parks System to host eight farm-to-table dinners from June 14th to September 27th. Each event took place at a state park restaurant, pairing locally grown produce and products for menu items. Both programs are great examples on how to expand local, fresh food options for rural communities.

We say it all the time, but nothing is ever accomplished without the right team in place.
I cannot be prouder of the folks we have brought into the department. Our team identified weaknesses within our own staff and structure then sought out qualified candidates to fill those gaps. It started with our division directors who have put into action a new, overarching philosophy beneficial to our objectives and missions. As we continue to grow and learn from one another, we promise to do everything possible to help write West Virginia’s comeback story. We are proud of what we accomplished in 2018 and we look forward to expanding on those successes in the coming year.

Kent A. Leonhardt
West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture

Grisly Discovery Made in Waters off New Zealand

The Free Press WV

The bodies of six decapitated fur seal pups have been discovered in the waters off New Zealand’s South Island, the BBC reports. The country’s Department of Conservation is calling the incident “cruel and senseless.” A tour operator reportedly found the bodies on Monday. The animals’ heads were not located; authorities believe the pups, estimated to be about 11 months old, were killed somewhere else and dumped from a boat. “We believe it’s incredibly unlikely sharks would have bitten the heads off six seals but left the bodies untouched,“ says Andy Thompson of the DoC, the Telegraph reports, adding that the incident has been reported to police.

Under New Zealand’s Marine Mammals Protection Act, per the BBC, it’s illegal to harass or harm fur seals. And, according to the Telegraph, a teen spent two years in jail for beating 25 seals to death in 2011. Thompson speculates that whomever killed the seals may have believed the animals were competing for desirable fish. But that’s a misconception, he says. “Research shows 90 percent of Banks Peninsula fur seal diet is made up of lantern fish which are not sought after in fishing.“

WV Commissioner of Agriculture Announces 2019 Legislative Priorities

The Free Press WV

West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt announced his priorities for the 2019 Legislative Session. These priorities were developed by Commissioner Leonhardt, as well as staff at the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) who have been working with partners and lawmakers to identify polices to grow and enhance agriculture in West Virginia. In addition, the WVDA will be asking for several improvement packages through the budgeting process including a general appropriation for upgraded laboratory facilities.

“This will be our third legislative session, and I believe the most prepared we have been to make significant policy changes. We know agriculture can be an economic driver for the state but some of the Department’s code hasn’t been updated since the 1920s,” Commissioner Leonhardt said. “All of our priorities seek to modernize rules and regulations or provide more tools to our agribusinesses.”

The most significant initiatives are the re-passage of two bills vetoed in 2018, the Capital Improvement Fund (HB 4166) and the Ag General Counsel Bill (SB 322). New priorities include the transfer of Grade A milk regulation from DHHR to the WVDA, modernization of auctioneer code, development of an agriculture investment fund, the creation of a farm-to-school pilot project and the transfer of the West Virginia Division of Forestry to the WVDA.

“We have done our due diligence to identify strategies to grow our agricultural industries. This includes the development of a strategic plan for agriculture. We hope the strategic plan and our own initiatives will put us on the right path to growing agriculture in the state,” Leonhardt said.

In 2018, the WVDA, in conjunction with the West Virginia Farm Bureau, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, West Virginia Conservation Agency, WVU Extension Service, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design and West Virginia State University Extension Service conducted an economic impact study to evaluate barriers to growth, as well as rising sectors in the agricultural industry. A public survey, combined with the results of several stakeholder meetings held throughout the State will be used in the development of the strategic plan. A draft plan will be released to lawmakers during session, with a final plan to be released in March 2019.

“We know agriculture has a place in West Virginia’s future. It is time we start taking agribusinesses seriously,” Leonhardt said. “By working with our partners, we have come up with a cohesive vision and strategy that will grow, not hinder, agriculture in the Mountain State.”

In addition to the agenda Commissioner Leonhardt has laid out, he will also be supporting several initiatives led by other organizations. This includes civil asset forfeiture reform, “Food Freedom” legislation, Right to Farm modernization and efforts to help source local products through West Virginia institutions.

For a full list of priorities click here.

For questions, contact Crescent Gallagher at 30.-558.3708 or ‘cgallagher@wvda.u’s

Land in 7 WV counties acquired for wildlife management efforts

The Free Press WV

A nonprofit has bought nearly 19,000 acres of forest land in seven West Virginia counties aimed at increasing public access for hunting and wildlife-associated recreation.

The Arlington, Virginia-based Conservation Fund announced the land purchase Thursday.

A statement by the organization says the land was bought at the request of the state Division of Natural Resources and will eventually be transferred to the state as funding becomes available. The plan is to create five new wildlife management areas and expand four others along with North Bend State Park.

The land is in Calhoun, Doddridge, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Wirt and Wood counties. The land features habitat for a variety of endangered and threatened bird, bat and mussel species.

The DNR also recently acquired 12,440 acres in four counties for preservation efforts.

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