While West Virginia has always been known as a coal state and is emerging more and more in aerospace, technology, tourism and other economic endeavors, its agricultural roots are sometimes forgotten.
That is especially true as more and more small farmers struggle to keep age-old family traditions alive. Those struggles were magnified with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the questions and concerns it has raised.
Fortunately, West Virginia has benefited from the leadership of Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt, who has championed the state’s agricultural products and its farmers during his current term.
“We kept agriculture open in the state of West Virginia,” Leonhard said. “Can you imagine what the economy would have been like if the ag businesses had shut down too? Or the food shortages we would have had on our shelves?”
Leonhardt said his focus on changing the state Department of Agriculture’s culture has paid dividends, as he’s emphasized educating producers and would-be farmers, both in terms of best practices and regulations.
“What we’ve done is we’ve changed the attitude of the personnel of the department,” he said. “We’re an educate-before-we-regulate department now. We want to make sure that producers understand what the rules are, and we help them meet those rules so that they can continue to be successful producers.”
Leonhardt also has emphasized introducing agricultural pursuits to the state’s young people, as the state’s membership in FFA (Future Farmers of America) has broken 70-year-old records for participation.
“West Virginia in 2019 — and then we broke it again in 2020 — we broke the 1950 record for participation in FAA,” he said. “That’s tremendous, considering our declining population. Not all of these young folks are going to go into agriculture, but at least now we will have educated consumers, and a lot of them will go into agriculture.”
While Leonhardt faces quality competition in this year’s election from longtime state lawmaker Bob Beach, who has a strong agricultural background himself, it is hard to argue with Leonhardt’s efforts, results and handling of the pandemic’s impact.
WV News endorses Leonhardt for a second term.