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County holds first Agriculture Economic Development Forum

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    More than 60 county farmers and agriculture supporters attended the Bedford Agriculture Economic Development Advisory Board’s (AEDAB) first public forum on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, from 2:30 - 4 p.m. at the Bedford Welcome Center.

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    Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Matt Lohr attended the event and spoke to attendees about the challenges and opportunities in agriculture, a $55 billion industry that produces more than 357,000 jobs statewide annually.
    “There’s a tremendous opportunity to feed the world,” Lohr said. “There’s a lot of hungry mouths out there and we need an agricultural system that is progressive.”
    Lohr, a fifth-generation farmer, spoke about the need to protect Virginia’s 47,000 farms from being absorbed into development. He said he was personally preserving his own 250-acre Shenandoah Valley farm through a conservation easement. He added that 70 percent of farmland is estimated to change ownership in the next two decades.
    Also at the forum, several Ag Board initiatives were announced.
    Traci Blido, Economic Development Director, unveiled a new “Bedford Grown” logo that may be used by agriculture producers and farmer’s markets to signify when products have been grown locally. “I see a lot of pride among our farmers when it comes to locally produced products and goods. This is a way to put a brand to that pride and promote additional sales,” she said.
    Additionally, Scott Baker, Bedford Extension Agent, described a Coyote Lottery program that will be launched this fall during hunting season to help decrease the number of coyotes that are threatening area livestock.
    Lohr visited three area farms in the hours prior to the Forum to learn about the various agriculture industries in Bedford County. He toured Royal Oak Farm in Evington where up to 300 tons per day of non-toxic, clean waste is recycled into top quality compost and topsoil blends for consumers. He also spent time at Gardner Custom Heifer Growers in Huddleston and Johnson’s Orchard and Peaks of Otter Winery in Bedford.
    Lohr was appointed by Governor Bob McDonnell to serve in this role in 2010. He was active in the FFA organization where he served as state president and national vice president in the early 1990’s before graduating from Virginia Tech in 1995.  He served several years as his county Farm Bureau president and chaired both the Rockingham County Planning Commission and School Board. From 2005 – 2010, Matt represented the 26th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He and his family currently operate a 250-acre farm that includes commercial poultry, beef, crops, and a U-Pick pumpkin and corn maze operation.
    AEDAB Chairman Jeff Powers is considering future Agriculture Forums due to the positive response he has received from this event.
    The Bedford Agriculture Economic Development Advisory Board is a 12-member board appointed by the Bedford County Board of Supervisors to enhance the county’s agriculture economy and advise them on industry issues of concern. For more information, visit http://www.bedfordeconomicdevelopment.com/agriculture/.