Executive Director, Virginia Agribusiness Council
What kind of services do you provide that benefit small towns?
We primarily are a government relations trade association, so being an advocate for rural Virginia in Richmond and the issues that affect them. For example, we had a very high priority this year on expanding broadband access to small and especially rural communities. And we were pretty successful in that the general public budget was $20 million for broadband expansion. That’s where we try to be the unified voice for agribusinesses, especially if a lot of them are located in rural areas and small towns and tell the story through information and educational materials of how the agribusiness community really is the backbone of a lot of small towns and the loss of economic development opportunities when those rural producers and agribusinesses go out of business.
Why are agricultural businesses important to small towns?
Agriculture touches everything. When you lose a farm, it’s a huge economic hit, not just to that farm but all the inputs that go into that farm and the local community. Retailers take a hit all the way down the line. The footprint that agriculture has — it’s the commonwealth’s largest industry, it’s No. 1 and forestry is No. 3. Together they are a huge economic driver. So understanding and knowing where your food and fiber come from is a huge advantage for small towns. That’s part of the reason why our mission is so important to make sure that the industry continues to thrive economically.
What can mayors and town managers do to support agriculture?
Understanding what the needs are for the industry and providing and fostering an environment for them to do so. A lot of the local issues depend on working with farmers to help conserve the land. We do see quite a bit when it comes to zoning and planning taxation. Things such as that really go a long way in understanding the needs of the farmer and balancing that with the needs of the rest of the community.
What do small town mayors and managers need to know that they don’t know?
The time, effort, and needs of their local farmers and their local agribusinesses and some of the other businesses that go along with it. What we’re finding is as more and more suburban and urban areas expand in certain regions, there’s quite a bit of friction. Preserving agricultural farm land has become a higher priority for us because it continues to be a huge economic draw. Finding the right balance when it comes to development and expansion versus preserving the agricultural land goes a long way. It’s a big deal.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about your services?
We care very much about our farming and producers but we’re so much more than that. It’s so much bigger and wider range of services in the industry. There’s so many other ways that they can help, between land and soil health and environmental impacts — especially when it comes to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which is incredibly important to Virginia.