To ensure an agriculture-friendly future, 154 farmers from 50 counties met with lawmakers representing both rural and urban districts on Jan. 23 as part of Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s annual Legislative Day.
Participants chose issues to discuss with legislators, including meat processing expansion, FFA funding, and aerial application among other policy initiatives developed through year-round grassroots activities.
When retail meat shelves emptied during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers sought locally raised beef. This intense demand created bottlenecks at Virginia’s few processing facilities. Market-ready cattle are still being turned away because processors are at capacity.
Among others, Farm Bureau representatives met with the staffs of Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg to request an additional $1.25 million to support the expansion of Virginia’s meat processing industry.
“As a beef producer, this is a serious situation,” said Jessica Pittman of Hanover County. “I’ve had to drive 3½ hours just to get an appointment while there are processors much closer to my house.”
Sen. Obenshain met with Shenandoah County Farm Bureau members to discuss FFA funding needs. Ashley Kuhler recalled visiting Obenshain’s office while advocating for FFA in high school and as a state FFA officer.
“You always supported FFA,” she said. “But students have to pay membership dues. We’d like to see that membership 100% paid because we have over 32,000 ag students in Virginia, but only 13,000 of them are FFA members. It’s a small barrier to entry at $12, but growing up, I couldn’t always afford that.”
Obenshain said the initiative is a great way to support the next generation of farmers and industry leaders.
Advocates from Southwest Virginia met with regional lawmakers and discussed a bill more strictly regulating aerial application of crop protectants. Christmas trees grown on the steep pasturelands of Grayson County, for example, are treated by air, since heavy equipment can’t traverse the terrain. A newly introduced House bill says civil penalties will result from improper notification of aerial pesticide treatments.
“There’s a short window of application time,” said Adam Wilson of Washington County. “And if you have to wait seven days for a permit and then the wind’s not right, they won’t spray, and be booked for other jobs within the next seven days.”
Del. Jeffrey Campbell, R-Marion, said responsible producers should not be penalized for others’ irresponsible actions.
“We want people to have the freedom to farm, obviously,” he said. “But in a responsible fashion so it’s not impacting others choosing to farm in the area.”