Our potato initiative in West Virginia has taken a big step forward with the establishment of a three-year pilot project in the western and southwestern areas of the state. This spring, the WVDA entered into an agreement with the West Virginia Conservation Agency, and the Guyan and Western Conservation Districts, designed specifically to expand potato production in the Mountain State.
The region includes Boone, Cabell, Jackson, Logan, Lincoln, Mason, Mingo, Putnam, and Wayne counties.
In cooperation with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service and the WVCA, the conservation districts have identified program participants, conducted soil sampling, provided the seed and equipment and have develop conservation planting plans for each participant. The districts will also work with the farmer to plant a cover crop on the land after harvest to prevent erosion and improve the organic content in the soil.
Initially, the program calls for a total of 35 acres planted in potatoes for each district. Farmers can plant a minimum of one acre up to a maximum of five. To further assist our farmers, equipment has been purchased by the WVDA and will be made available to those producers, through the conservation districts, for free.
The only thing the farmer needs to provide is the tractor, fuel, labor, and 50 percent of the cost of the cover crop.
In addition to funding the pilot program, the WVDA will work with extension personnel from West Virginia University and West Virginia State University to provide horticulture assistance to participating farmers. We will also furnish packaging and marketing at harvest.
Education is a key component of this project as well and the demonstration plots will be used to collect data and hold agriculture field days with farmers, students and other organizations to increase knowledge and support for the program. The data collected will be used to make improvements and gauge the success of the program.
We have also been in discussions with farmers in other regions and intend to launch similar pilot projects in the near future in addition to adding other crops. We must have that diversification in what we produce.
We as West Virginians can do many things to help feed ourselves and we believe this effort is in line with our thinking of providing fresh, healthy, locally grown crops for our families to consume.
Aggregation facilities for our farmers is an essential asset and we also continue efforts on establishing canning and other processing and packaging locations across the state.