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As my team heads into its seventh legislative session, we once again set off to advocate on behalf of agriculture, our farmers and West Virginia’s food supply. Each and every session, we work diligently to remind our lawmakers the value agriculture adds to the West Virginia economy and security of our citizens. Through our efforts, we have found ways to reduce burdens and barriers on our farmers, expand markets for producers, modernize our code and regulations and put in place protections for our farmland. While we still have so much to do, our priorities for this session will be advocating for investments in local food systems, as well as finding a pathway forward for our laboratory facilities.

As we continue to experience rising energy prices, supply chain issues and inflation, it is vital we invest in the resiliency of our energy and agricultural sectors. During the pandemic, we saw disruptions to our food chain that did and could have devastating effects at the local level. The most visible was grocery stores struggled to keep food on the shelves. Consumers turned to local producers, which was only possible because we, at the Department of Agriculture, kept agriculture open. Imagine the state of our economy and effects on the food supply if we had bent to the calls for a broader shut down. Instead, we worked with other states to bring in excess commodities and keep our processing facilities open. We found ways to increase meat production by 200% and still today, we still benefit from a 50% increase in meat processing. All because we kept agriculture moving forward.

Kent A. Leonhardt is the West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture.

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