11/9/2013 7:00 AM
By Becca Pizmoht Virginia Correspondent
SOMERSET Va. — Thirty-five people from diverse segments of the agribusiness community attended the Virginia Agribusiness Council’s Central Virginia Regional Agribusiness Roundtable on Oct. 21. The event was held at Grelen Nursery in Somerset.
Participants came from the cattle, forestry, poultry, crop, vegetable, equine and green industries to hear several speakers discuss the future of Virginia agriculture.
The roundtable, which was sponsored in part by Farm Credit, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative and the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, began with commentary from local lawmakers.
Delegate Ed Scott, R-Culpeper, and Cort Bush and Tim Cummings from Rep. Eric Cantor’s office, spoke briefly about agriculture and policy. Scott’s district has a large agricultural base, and he emphasized his commitment to promoting agriculture and agribusiness. He explained that as a member of several House committees, he has been able to promote legislation that has been beneficial to farmers and balances environmental concerns, while at the same time protects farmers from excessive government regulation. Scott also spoke of his belief that small businesses are the core of his district’s economy and addressed concerns that these businesses are having with implementing the Affordable Care Act.
Alan Grant, dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, gave a Powerpoint presentation about current happenings at the college and how the university’s growth and research is applicable and vital to the industry. Undergraduate student enrollment in the college has increased over the past years and has a stable but slightly higher number of students in graduate degree programs. Grant spoke of the school’s commitment to working on what he calls the “grand challenge”; the need to provide enough food, fiber and fuel for an ever increasing population. He addressed several significant developments at Virginia Tech, including the beginning of renovations to the campus dairy facility and plans for renovation or replacement of the school’s beef, poultry, swine, equine and sheep facilities. The dairy facility is scheduled to be completed in phases and fully completed by March 2015. Grant believes that by looking to private industry for assistance in funding, the college will be able to maintain cutting-edge technology and equipment as well as promote research that will be mutually beneficial to large corporations and agriculture.
Ed Jones, director of Virginia Cooperative Extension, explained the role of the agency today. He compared and contrasted with Cooperative Extension of the past, discussing changes in the agricultural community and changes to the program’s funding. Jones said he encourages increased agent training, statewide cooperation and use of out-of- state resources to fulfill the needs of the agribusiness community. He emphasized that although Extension has downsized, it’s by no means abandoned its mission. In fact, Jones Extension has renewed its commitment to agriculture and the community by increasing agent training, sharing resources, and promotion and education of private sector consultants.
Bobby Grisso, associate director for agriculture and natural resources at Virginia Cooperative Extension, emphasized the coordination of programs between the land-grant universities — Virginia Tech and Virginia State — and Cooperative Extension. He spoke about the research that is going on at the Agricultural Experiment Stations throughout the state and how it is applicable to agribusinesses throughout the region. The Experiment Station program has been geared to specific segments of agribusiness and specific regions. Grisso said the system provides research that addresses specific areas of regional agriculture.
Lively discussion ensued about how the future of Virginia agriculture would be impacted by water quality and water use, agricultural education, immigration and the new Farm Bill. Talk focused on the role of land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension in dealing with issues facing agribusiness today.
Dan Gregg, owner of Grelen Nursery, gave an overview of his business and how it evolved from a family cow/calf operation to the multi-faceted nursery, landscape and farm market business that it is today. He offered participants the opportunity to tour his 600-acre facility. Gregg cited his own business as an example of how agribusiness can benefit from both Cooperative Extension and the land-grant university system.
When Gregg took over the family cow/calf operation, he consulted with local Extension agents. They helped form a plan to turn the floundering livestock operation into a prosperous nursery business. Before implementing changes, Gregg attended a nursery management course at Virginia Tech.