THE West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the American Friends Service Committee released a report last month, "Who Owns West Virginia?"
Their answer, in parts of the state, was mainly timber and other natural resource companies. A
better question would be, "Who farms West Virginia?"
West Virginians eat $7 billion worth of food each year, but its farm industry is only about $653 million a year. That is less than 10 percent of the grocery bill.
Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick told legislators he wants to double production of food in West Virginia to more than $1 billion in a few years.
There are challenges, of course. Flat land is rare and vertical farming is difficult. Hillsides are best suited for trees.
But the poultry industry in the eastern portion of the state has grown into a quarter-billion-dollar business in recent years. The state also has a hefty beef industry.
Helmick sees potential for hog-raising in the southern part of the state. Pork farms are a $2.5-billion-a-year industry in North Carolina, but pork farmers can no longer get permits in that state. He visited pork farms and he was impressed.
"It was astonishing," he said of the North Carolina operations. "When you were at the hog grow-out houses . . . there was absolutely no odor at that site. There was odor where the waste was being applied to the land, but not at the grow-out site. They were capturing the methane from the waste and producing electricity. It's very innovative."
Given America's taste for bacon, this is no pig in a poke.
The state's vegetable business also has potential, and his department is working with West Virginia University on a pilot program in Randolph County.
The state has contributed to agriculture. For example, WVU developed West Virginia 63 for the state's centennial, a tomato that is disease-resistant to Fusarium and Verticillium wilts as well as early and late blight.
West Virginia has more than coal and natural gas to offer to the nation. State officials need to lead the way to tapping its potential. Helmick seems to be doing just that.