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Candidates pledge support of agriculture, forestry during Roanoke forum

The Democratic and Republican candidates for governor both vowed to support the state’s largest industries during the 2017 Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Gubernatorial Candidates’ Forum July 28 at Virginia Western Community College.

virginiaThis is the fifth gubernatorial forum hosted by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Committee and sponsored by Farm Bureau, the Virginia Agribusiness Council, the Virginia Forestry Association and the Virginia Forest Products Association.

“We know how important it is to have elected officials who want to support the No. 1 industries in the commonwealth,” remarked Mindy McCroskey, chairman of the VFBF Young Farmers Committee. “It’s not about party line; it’s about how they’re going to support agriculture and forestry.”

A new economic impact study released July 18 by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia revealed that the state’s agriculture and forestry industries contribute $91 billion annually to the economy. That total represents a 30 percent increase since 2013.

Edward W. “Ed” Gillespie, the Republican candidate, pledged to be a “relentless marketer” of agriculture and forestry products, both domestically and abroad.

Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, the Democratic candidate, said he will work to expand broadband access in rural areas. “It is unacceptable in 2017 that we have so many pockets without broadband and cell coverage; this is a pet peeve of mine.” He added that he is working on a pilot program with Microsoft to increase cellular coverage in rural areas.

Both candidates said they support land use taxation.

“As long as I can make decisions, I won’t do anything to threaten the land use taxation program,” Northam said.

They both also pledged assistance for funding best management cost-share practices that farmers use to help protect the Chesapeake Bay.

“No one cares more about the environment than family farmers, and we need to balance clean water with productive farming,” Gillespie shared. “It will be a priority to get this right.”

Northam, a native of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, said he grew up with the Chesapeake Bay for a backyard and noted that farmers “get bulls-eyes on them, but they are not the problem and have been great at helping clean up the Chesapeake Bay.”

He concluded by saying that his door is “always open” and that if there’s anything he can do to help agriculture and forestry, he will.

Gillespie wrapped up by saying he is “passionate about creating jobs that will benefit rural Virginians,” and he promised to “be a champion” of agriculture and forestry. “I know you farm and you vote, and I hope you vote for me.”

After the forum, Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Megan Seibel noted that based on their responses, both candidates appear willing to work with agriculture and forestry. “Both of them realize the value of our industry,” she said.

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