Encouraging a Robust Ag Economy
Over the past few days, I’ve made stops at farms and agribusinesses up and down the Shenandoah Valley to learn more from farmers and producers in my district about how the current farm economy and federal policies are impacting their operations. From walking rows of watermelons at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Dayton to watching computerized machines milk cows in Rockbridge County, the agriculture industry in the Sixth District is as diverse as it is plentiful.
One of the biggest takeaways from this tour was that modern agriculture is more and more prevalent on farms in the Sixth District. Farmers and agribusinesses are innovating and adapting to meet the demands of today’s market and consumers. Ingleside Dairy Farm in Rockbridge County was the first in Virginia to use computerized milking machines. Roughly 330 cows are now milked by robots that allow the cows to come and go on their own time frame. The computer keeps track of health and output. Technology is also changing the way milk is processed once it leaves the farm. The Shamrock Farms plant in Verona processes and packages thousands of units of milk products each day, much of which is sourced from nearby farms. The plant has only been open for a few years, but they are already expanding to make room for additional production lines and more employees.
Another stop was at Brix and Columns Vineyards, a new farm winery in Rockingham County. In addition to growing vines, the Pence family recently opened a tasting room and host special events onsite, tapping into the growing agritourism market. At Baker Farms in Shenandoah County, I learned that while Steve Baker had raised hogs his whole life, he knew he would need to do more to keep his farm profitable. As a result, he opened a small pork processing operation. Baker Farms now sells its pork to farmer’s markets, schools, and restaurants across Virginia as part of the popular farm-to-table movement.
At Valley Pike Farm in Broadway, Matt and Beth Lohr are continuing a family tradition of growing and selling sweet corn, while also maintaining several poultry houses and raising feeder cattle. This family illustrates a great example of the next generation of farmers stepping up to the plate, but also a reminder of why we must continue to teach today’s youth about the importance of agriculture. Another small business I had the opportunity to visit was Appalachian Woods in Stuarts Draft where reclaimed lumber is transformed into beautiful hardwood flooring.
While I saw many successful operations, I fully understand that many sectors of the agriculture industry are still suffering from low prices, complex regulations, and an unfair tax system. During my visits, I learned more about which federal programs are working and which need reforms, what regulations are stifling and which are common sense, and how the federal government can best encourage a robust agriculture economy. As Congress crafts the next Farm Bill, I look forward to taking what I have learned back to Washington. A strong agriculture economy is important for a strong America.