The meeting was hosted by Mountain Castles Soil and Water Conservation District
Craig County is known for its agriculture. The county strives to maintain its agricultural legacy and to train others to become self-sufficient as well as learn the possible availabilities of assistance and better technology.
The Mountain Castles Soil and Water Conservation District hosted a meeting, with a lineup of speakers who gave community members a wealth of knowledge.
A number of board members, Emily Nolen, the agriculture teacher of Craig County High School, and some of Nolen’s students and Future Farmers of America members were present.
The FFA members led the meeting with a prayer, The Pledge of Allegiance and information of what they are doing at the school and the new Land Lab.
The catered meal was provided by the conservation district team.
Each speaker emphasized that they will be the liaisons to help each person work through all the steps.
Abbey Pierson, district coordinator at Mountain Castles, studied at Virginia Tech and settled in New Castle with her husband about three years ago. He is also a pilot who learned to fly at the glider port in Craig. She has worked with Mountain Castles for a year.
“They started serving Craig County in 1945, as Natural Bridge Soil and Water and then in the 80s it split off and was named Mountain Castles named after New Castle and Fincastle and the mountains that surround them both,” Pierson shared.
She noted that they have received a lot of funding from the Virginia Department of Conservation Integration to support crop sharing programs.
“One of our biggest strengths is that we are local,” Pierson said. “We are governed by a local volunteer board of directors.”
She explained that members of the public can sign up for conservation plans field-by-field and not all at once if needed, adding stream exclusion with flexible buffers, including crop sharing, drilling new wells, putting troughs in, stream crossings, nutrient management plans, cover crops, as well as manure pack barn or composting (a convenient way to store the manure) and they can help to put up a pad with an attached manure storage or a pack barn so that it can be spread when needed.
Many other services are available. The district’s office is in Bonsack.
Derek Hancock, district conservationist for Roanoke, Craig and Botetourt counties, shared how he helps with natural resources conservation services that are paid for by the Department of Agriculture.
He is married to his wife, Amanda, and has three boys.
“I am pro-ag and pro-forestry,” he said. “I am all invested and am here to help anyone anyway I can.”
Hancock graduated from Ferrum College with a bachelor’s in agriculture and has been with the conservation district for 13 years. He discussed the importance of “getting your toolbox together.”
“When you start something on your farm you need a toolbox full of these partners here who are present,” he said. “When you are running your errands, include a visit to the offices and know the partners that are available to help each farmer, who can help bring economic development to you and your farm. Our programs have some serious supplements.”
His agency serves in two ways, with technical assistance to answer questions or guide people in the right direction.
“You may have a problem on the farm such as evasive species, the pastures aren’t performing, guidance on how to take a soil sample, crop rotation, how to deal with animal waste or nutrient management,” he said.
He added that some may need financial assistance, giving two programs, the EQUIP and CSP, the
Conservation Stewardship Program which is a 5-year program.
“This is like a thank you payment for doing it on your farm and the better that you are the more money that you can make in the program,” Hancock explained. “Other things can help to accentuate this program such as rotational grazing or fertilizing soil samples.”
He emphasized the first and most important thing is for landowners to get him on their land to look at it and evaluate what programs could be of benefit.
He added, “There is nothing that I will be seeing or doing or working with you on that I will report on to anyone, as we are here to help you. We can help design systems and work with you and cater to your operation. It will all be up to you in your decision.”
“You can take the paperwork and just use it in your fireplace if you choose,” he added with a smile. “To go forward and learn about resources that are available to get this done, we start working on your prescription. There is some yearly paperwork that is required, but it always seems to definitely be worth the time for everyone, for the exchange in benefits and assistance.”
Hancock added, “I will show you the one that pays you the best with the least amount of money out of your pocket possible.”
Matt Bumgardner, a Farm Service Agency farm loan specialist, shared that his organization loans money at a low interest to help in working with these programs, when needed.
“I partner with all the banks in the area and back their money up. We have a guarantee program. We also have a youth loan program designed to offer kids from ages 10 to 20 in an agricultural type of project,” he said.
WP Johnson, FSA representative, personally farms 900 acres in Bedford County, including wheat, soybeans, corn, barley, oats, hay and cows.
“You name it, and I will try it,” he said. “My job in economic development is to invest in your community. I am here to try to make your farm more profitable as 90% of my business is to give you money. My methodology is to help you pay the banks off, by increasing your profitability.”
He emphasized that if farmers want to do a project on their property or are struggling with cash flow, they should call, as there are many options available.
He spoke of a few including, disaster assistance.
“We do a lot with crop insurance (floods, lightning strikes, avian attacks from animals that you cannot control legally), those things that attack your animals and your operation we can reimburse you for,” he said.
He gave an example where a farmer put his hay up along the side of a field and the river got up and destroyed it and another example where a barn burned with their hay. Their program can help reimburse that value loss and help in the of natural disaster.
“Hay is a value to your farm. If you have animals and no hay to feed them, you don’t have the income,” Johnson said. “We can help you through all the steps needed to qualify.”
He covered many options including pastures, corn, silage, hemp and financing different equipment with an easier payoff option. There is also a program that helps people who raise Christmas trees, grapevines or fruit trees to replace them when they die.
Denny McCarthy, of the Virginia Department of Forestry, shared that the agency is the state entity in Virginia that serves private landowners.
“Seventy-five percent of all the forest land in Virginia is private land.” he said. “And this forest land contributes about $30 billion a year to the economy in Virginia primarily through timber sales.”
“Our agency was born and bred in 1914 with two primary mandates. The first is to suppress wild land fires, as we respond to fires where the local fire departments hoses cannot reach not reach and the second mandate is to plant trees on lands,” he said.
The agency has several nurseries to support this effort, growing about 48 different species.
“I spend the majority of my time working with individual landowners, visiting their properties, giving them advice and guidance on how to manage their properties to meet their specific goals,” McCarthy shared.
He added that he spends most of his time writing management plans for landowners who have more interest in wildlife management like raising bigger deer, attracting more turkeys, etc. and still brings the Smoky the Bear program to many counties.
He went over the hardwood management program and suggested a fundraiser to the FFA, where they can buy 1,000 trees for .12 each and resell to landowners in small bundles.
He can also provide lists of forest consultants who help landowners to sell their timber.
Scott Stevens, with Bank of Botetourt, shared that they have always been into ag lending, including real estate, equipment or livestock. He added, “My office is my truck and I come to see you!”
It was noted that when people say “agriculture,” they think farming but there were so many different career speakers that aren’t farmers.
Farm Bureau shared many ways that the organization can help communities.
“There is the federation side and then there is the insurance side,” shared Jeannie Dudding. “The federation includes the $40 per year dues that are paid, which much of it is reinvested back into the county through scholarships, ag in the classroom, ag promotion, 4-H and FFA programs.”
Mark Campbell, district field services director, encouraged all in attendance to become a Farm Bureau member to help continue representation in Washington, D.C.
He discussed some of the bills that were proposed in Virginia in 20220. One of the proposed bills mandated stream fencing. Farm Bureau representatives opposed that with other organizations.
“We had members to come as far away as Bristol to speak enrichment against this mandate and it was because of that that it did not pass,” he shared. “I do not believe that there has been a louder voice than the Farm Bureau in promoting funding for soil and water conservation.”
He noted many other grassroots efforts that Farm Bureau is active in, includes legislation in D.C. and Richmond.
Dudding added that members were encouraged to attend the annual producers meeting, where they will have a veterinarian to speak on the tick issue.
She also discussed the Farm Bureau discount app button which will pull up discounts in whatever area individuals live in or are vacationing in.
Leeann Mattox, Young Farm committee chair, shared that they had joined up with a small group from Montgomery County. They are doing projects with them. She said that she is looking forward to learning the ropes of her new position and helping teens to grow in agriculture.
Teens from 18 to 35 are welcome to join the group.
Mary Hunter shared that their goal is to promote the importance of agriculture by helping with fundraisers to help the agriculture department grow and improve.
She added that she was very excited about seeing the new Land Lab up and running and continuing to grow.
“We are now working on some grants to develop the left-hand side of the property,” Hunter added. “We’ll be pleased to have your expertise as well as your time and any donations that you would like to give to help with fencing, additional laughs stock and building up the program.”
They currently have a handmade quilt they are selling raffle tickets to raise funds.
The new Farm Bureau agent, David Brown, introduced himself. He shared that he would welcome a visit to anyone’s home to discuss how he may assist.
Door prizes that were given out.