RICHMOND — County Farm Bureau presidents and other Farm Bureau volunteer leaders crowded the halls of the Pocahontas Building Jan. 28 to meet with delegates and senators during the annual Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Legislative Day.
A group from Pittsylvania County met with Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr., R-Clarksville, and discussed issues that have an impact on agriculture, including the farmers’ ability to grow industrial hemp, expansion of rural broadband service and funding for Virginia Cooperative Extension personnel.
VFBF board member and Pittsylvania farmer Robert Mills told Ruff that farmers appreciate the agricultural research that’s conducted at Virginia Tech, but there is a need for local Extension agents to help farmers apply that information. “We are struggling without enough Extension employees,” he noted.
Ruff agreed, saying that it’s “nice to have good information at Tech but better to have knowledgeable people out in the communities.”
Mills also emphasized the need for a law that would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp, which currently can only be done in conjunction with university research projects. “If we can grow hemp, processors will come to Virginia,” he explained.
He also spoke in support of HB 1839 before the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Subcommittee. The bill would amend Virginia law to comply with the 2018 Farm Bill, which allows farmers to grow industrial hemp. HB 1839 would abolish the higher education and Virginia industrial hemp research programs, along with the requirement that a grower or processor act exclusively within such a program.
A similar bill introduced by Ruff, SB 1692, unanimously passed the Senate Agriculture Committee last week.
A group from Tazewell County met with Del. Will Morefield, R-Tazewell, and Sen. A. Benton Chafin Jr., R-Lebanon, about growing industrial hemp and the need for broadband service in rural areas. Morefield promised to support both.
“The hemp bill looks like it’s in good shape, and I think hemp will prove to be a viable cash crop,” Morefield shared. He also emphasized the importance of rural broadband. “You can’t run a business; your kid can’t do homework without it. Rural broadband would help individuals, businesses and economic development as a whole.”
While Farm Bureau representatives met with legislators, members of the VFBF Women’s Committee handed out chicken sandwiches sourced with local ingredients to General Assembly members and staff. By 1 p.m. they had distributed close to 500.
Meeting with legislators and having a presence at the General Assembly allows farmers to help lawmakers understand the issues they face and explain how legislation will affect them. Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, met Pittsylvania farmers Bob and Kristal Harris through the VFBF Adopt an Urban Legislator program. Jones said he’s learned much about agriculture from the Harrises, and “if they tell me about something they’re concerned about, I’ll talk to legislators on the agriculture committee.”