Tag Archives: farms

Virginia Tech reinvigorates the aging farming population

Beginning Farmer program helping reinvigorate aging farming populationThe farming industry is no small potatoes for the commonwealth. Agriculture is the state’s largest industry, with a national economic impact of $52 billion annually — a figure that is growing every year. Meanwhile, Virginia’s agricultural and forestry exports have increased to nearly $3 billion annually.

But what is also increasing is the age of the state’s farmers. The average age of a Virginia farmer today is 59.5 years old, compared with a nationwide average age of 50 in 1978. And that aging population may threaten the state’s ability to keep up with the demand for agricultural products at home and abroad.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is keeping farming at the forefront of the commonwealth’s economic engine and social fabric by developing innovative outreach programs.

Kim Niewolny, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education and an Extension specialist, is the director of the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Program. The program is the first beginning farmer learning network in Virginia. It serves as a conduit — not only to educate, but also to connect organizations and individuals with each other in order to encourage a transfer of agricultural knowledge. The program received a $740,000 grant from the USDA and was created to reverse the steady decline in the number of people entering farming.

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Cider is making a comeback

Greg Peck is one of a handful of researchers helping to grow the state’s burgeoning cider industry.

Greg Peck is one of a handful of researchers helping to grow the state’s burgeoning cider industry.

The beverage of choice for Colonial Americans is quickly becoming the preferred beverage of a new generation of connoisseurs. Cider, a fermented beverage made from apples, has seen an exponential increase in production in the common-wealth — 850 percent in the last five years. Currently there are eight cideries licensed in Virginia and four more are slated to come online by the end of the year.

Research being conducted at the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Winchester, Virginia, is helping apple growers in the state meet the demand for production and improve the quality of hard cider in the state.

Recently, Virginia Tech was awarded a planning grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to identify how best to address the needs of the cider industry.

“This planning grant will help us resolve some of the key production barriers along the whole supply chain, from cultivar to consumer,” said Greg Peck, an assistant professor of horticulture and Extension specialist who is one of the principal investigators on the project.

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