Gilmer Free Press
WVDA Celebrating Historic Centennial at West Virginia State Farm Museum
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) will host a celebration at the West Virginia State Farm Museum Saturday from 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM in recognition of the Department’s hundredth year as a state agency.
The day will feature pumpkin decorating and costume contests for the kids, along with a silent auction, model train display and music by the Davisson Brothers Band.
“This is the highlight of our year-long centennial celebration,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass, who has seen more than half of that history firsthand after joining the Department as assistant commissioner in 1957.
“At this time of year when we traditionally celebrate the harvest, we can also celebrate the Department of Agriculture, which has been protecting human, plant and animal health and the food supply we rely on for 100 years. And we can do so in a place that is a living monument to our state’s rural lifestyle.”
West Virginia has 23,000 farms, and leads the nation in percentage of family owned and operated farms at 95.2%.
Annually, the state produces approximately a half-billion dollars’ worth of agricultural products. Most of the income from those sales recirculates within the local economy – five times for each dollar, according to estimates.
The leading agricultural sector is the poultry industry, concentrated in the Eastern Panhandle. Next on the list is the cattle industry, which can be found all over the state.
West Virginia is 10th in the country in apple production and 17th in peach production.
Initiatives spearheaded by the WVDA are seeking to preserve the economic viability of the state’s small farms by increasing the production and demand for local specialty crops, promoting agritourism, protecting farmland from urban development and increasing international marketing of the state’s food products.
“Farming is an integral part of our state’s economy, history, culture and future. Anyone who thinks the WVDA is irrelevant should think again when they sit down to their next meal,” Commissioner Douglass said.
The Legislature formed the Department in 1911. Its first commissioner, Howard E. Williams, quickly laid the groundwork for the future of the WVDA, calling for laws to protect consumers, livestock, crops and the environment. Those laws have been passed and expanded over the years.
The WVDA has eradicated many of the animal diseases that plagued farmers early in the last century, but the current pace and volume of international trade means a greater risk of more diseases being introduced, a focus of the Department’s Animal Health Division.
Besides Animal Health, the WVDA also houses a Plant Industries Division that inspects plants coming to state home and garden retailers and operates pest survey and control programs.
Meat and Poultry Inspection Division inspects those meat and poultry facilities not under USDA inspection. Every animal offered for slaughter is inspected before and after death for any sign of disease. Every facility is inspected on a daily basis for sanitation, humane slaughter and proper procedures.
Regulatory and Environmental Affairs Division inspects and tests egg, dairy and other products for safety. It tests agricultural materials to ensure they match product labels. Plus, the division has a pesticide regulatory section that licenses all pesticide handlers. A free safety training program is offered four times a year.
Marketing and Development Division provides free business development services to state agribusinesses and draws attention to the state’s agricultural products both at home and, increasingly, abroad.
The WVDA has a homeland security/emergency response section to respond to animal disease outbreaks or other civil emergencies, and an environmental section that has conducted extensive water quality studies and helps farmers minimize their environmental impact.
“Although the WVDA has been around for a century, a lot of people don’t really know what goes on here – but they should. Our activities touch every person in the state, every day,” said Commissioner Douglass. “In this country – where food has been so plentiful and so affordable for so long – it’s very easy to take our food supply for granted. But a quick look at events around the globe shows that we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent.”