Network goes back to basics to reach part-time farmers

va farm bureauVirginia has 27,000 part-time farmers. Unlike their full-time colleagues who are likely to be alerted immediately of an animal health crisis, it could take days or weeks to contact them with critical information.

Virginia’s new Animal Health Network will rely on personal contacts between feed suppliers and their customers to help pass along health warnings. The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Virginia Cooperative Extension have created a network of local feed stores to better communicate with smaller-scale producers.

“For the producers who work in a business in an office or an urban setting during the day and then stop by the feed store on the way home, we’re planning if there’s an emergency situation to post it there,” said Dr. Richard Wilkes, state veterinarian. Notices would explain what the animal health issue is, tell producers where to get information and recommend what their next step should be.

“I think this is very much going back to ways that worked in the past,” Wilkes said. “We had barbershops, we had country stores and places that people congregated to pick up a few items and have some conversation, to visit with their neighbors. We’ve lost some of that, but we do see the local feed stores as one dimension of this older-type community that does exist and even thrive in some situations.”

The network has been tested several times with a high success rate in quickly spreading the word to feed stores across the state, Wilkes said. Other methods of communication like press releases and social media also will be used, but the network will directly target smaller-scale producers with word of mouth and signage.

Information about the Animal Health Network is available from Virginia Cooperative Extension offices, the state veterinarian’s office and local feed stores.

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