Virginia Program Bolsters the Future of Agriculture

From exploring the future of agriculture in Halifax County to examining the potential of a farm brewery at Montpelier, The Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development works on diverse projects that sometimes have little in common; however, a handful of recent projects are united by their common funding source: the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund (AFID).

“AFID is a particularly powerful tool for the Commonwealth’s agriculture and forestry development efforts,” says John Provo, director of the Office of Economic Development (OED). The AFID program was developed in 2012 and has provided more than $750,000 to Virginia localities for projects related to agricultural planning. In the last three years, Provo’s office has consulted on four such projects, conducting extensive data collection and providing analysis that will help promote agriculture and forestry businesses across the state.

Montpelier

Montpelier, located in Orange County, Virginia. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In 2015 the OED contributed to a study of potential agribusiness opportunities for Montpelier, the historic home of James Madison located in Orange County. “We saw an opportunity [at Montpelier] and the AFID program allowed us to convene a large group that represented various constituencies and solicit ideas,” says Bryan David, county administrator for Orange County, “The AFID process winnowed us down to a handful of ideas, and we’ve actually been able to demonstrate that these ideas are viable to investors. It made us more sustainable moving forward.” Today, Montpelier is proceeding with plans to diversify into agribusiness as they develop a farm brewery, thanks to the OED’s research and their AFID planning grant.

Sarah Lyon-Hill, senior economic development specialist, recently assisted Halifax County on another AFID-funded research project aimed at planning a sustainable and lucrative future for countywide agriculture and forestry. According to Lyon-Hill, “The AFID program has been a good way of looking at how we can take the agriculture and forestry sector and encourage it moving forward so we can raise overall wages and employment, and so we can make this region more competitive.” In Halifax County, AFID funding allowed the OED to conduct comprehensive research that identified potential opportunities to expand agriculture and forestry operations, thereby creating jobs and generating new opportunities for young people.

In the past few years, the OED has consulted on an assortment of AFID funded projects across Virginia, often conducting extensive field research and working with diverse local stakeholders to help plan the future of Virginia agriculture. The AFID grant, which requires both a one-to-one match from localities and an advisory group comprised of local stakeholders, ensures that localities are actively engaged in the AFID planning process, fostering greater collaboration and commitment within localities.

According to the Virginia Farm Bureau, the agriculture and forestry sectors have a combined economic impact of $91 billion and provide nearly 415,000 jobs across the Commonwealth. Despite this, Lyon-Hill says economic developers have tended to ignore agriculture and forestry, adding, “AFID grants can help communities highlight how agriculture and forestry industries can play a key role in economic growth and diversification.”

If you have questions about this story or the Office of Economic Development, please contact Devon Johnson, at dvj@vt.edu.

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