"It's hard work," he said, "so there's got to be a monetary reward. That must be part of it."
Farm-to-table initiatives that connect growers directly with consumers are also vital parts of the formula for success, Helmick said.
Connecting growers with 55 county school districts, regional jails and state prisons, and colleges and universities could benefit both the farmer and the consumers, who will be eating fresh, healthy food from sources they can trust.
Regional supply systems, with cooling and storage facilities that serve several counties, would help build such relationships, Helmick said.
Like all state agencies, the Department of Agriculture faces a 7.5 percent budget cut in July, but Helmick said he won't be following through on an earlier proposal to eliminate pest-control programs for black flies and gypsy moths.
"That will not happen," he said. "We can't sacrifice our timber and tourism industries."
Rather, he said, there will be smaller, across-the-board cuts and the elimination or consolidation of positions through attrition.
Though he didn't offer details, Helmick also said budget cuts won't derail his plans for a bond issue that would fund construction of a new agricultural headquarters "in Kanawha County somewhere," closer to the seat of government in Charleston.
The department is now housed at a 1950s-era, former Air Force radar station in Guthrie, about 5 miles outside the capital.
"It gives the impression, which has really become a reality now, that farming is secondary to anybody's thoughts," Helmick said.
"It's a pretty good way of life. And it's great for our state," he added. "West Virginia will be improved ... if we indeed improve agriculture."