Virginia’s largest private industry is agriculture with an economic impact of $70 billion annually and 334,000 jobs. Yet, according to Feeding America, one in eleven persons, or 766,620 people in Virginia, face hunger. One in nine children, or 214,270 children in the state, face hunger. The organization estimates that it would take $433,605,000 to meet the challenge. At the same time the agriculture industry faces natural challenges of weather extremes, declining demand in some areas including dairy products, foreign competition, and expensive financing.
This week I am in Nashville, Tennessee attending the Southern Legislative Conference annual meeting. The agenda for the meeting includes the range of issues facing state governments with an emphasis on the southern states. Improving and expanding infrastructure including broadband will be discussed along with the impact of COVID-19 and changes in federal laws and administration. The meetings are nonpartisan, but the differences in philosophy of governance are obvious as issues are discussed. Virginia is definitely an outlier among the southern states as to the role and responsibilities of state government.
The agenda also indicates the complexities of challenges facing agriculture in Virginia and throughout the South. I am chairman of the House of Delegates Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee by virtue of my having served on that committee for all the years I have been in continuous membership in the House. Being from a suburban district has not disadvantaged me for my district and region are dramatically affected by what is happening in the agricultural sector. My constituents are the customers of the farmers that grow the crops and livestock that feed the population. I am an enthusiastic supporter of local farmers markets where producers and consumers come into contact at least weekly and where the freshest of farm products are available.
The people who live in my district are impacted by the environmental practices of the entire state. The health of the Chesapeake Bay is a barometer of how well the state is doing with its environmental stewardship. Most of the Shenandoah Valley is in the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay. The practices of the homeowners in fertilizing their lawns as well as the farmers fertilizing their crops have an impact on the health of the Bay and Virginia’s seafood industry.
The states are referred to as “laboratories for democracy,” and conferences such as the Southern Legislative Conference provide legislators an opportunity to compare notes to see what is working and not working in their states. Boundaries of states are defined in their history. There are no factors other than that history that determine where one state ends and another begins. Challenges such as a pandemic, severe weather conditions, availability of natural resources, and the condition of our air and water do not recognize state boundaries. We are all in this together, and it is to our advantage and maybe our survival to work together. No other sector better reflects these similarities, differences, and challenges than agriculture.