Virginia Cooperative Extension has recognized Tyler Wegmeyer of Wegmeyer Farms in Loudoun County, Virginia, as the 2016 Virginia Farmer of the Year. He joins nine other state winners as finalists for the overall award, which will be announced on Oct. 18 at the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Georgia.
Wegmeyer operates a diversified 250-acre fruit and vegetable farm. The farm consists of three u-pick strawberry locations, four u-pick pumpkin locations, a vegetable CSA, and a large separate agritourism farm. In addition to direct consumer sales, he also sells wholesale to grocery store chains and nursery retailers along the East Coast.
His agriculture leadership roles include serving on the boards of the Virginia Strawberry Association, Southern States Cooperative, Loudoun County Heritage Farm Museum, and as the past president of the Loudoun County Farm Bureau.
“We are so pleased that farming operations like Wegmeyer Farms call Virginia home,” said Bobby Grisso, associate director of agriculture and natural resources for Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Tyler Wegmeyer has a unique perspective he can draw from his experience as both a policymaker and a farmer.”
Wegmeyer traded in his urban office for strawberry fields in 2013 when he decided to farm full time. Previously, Wegmeyer farmed part time and had a 15-year career in agricultural policy in Washington, D.C., where he served most recently as director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation. In addition, he was a strategic marketing project manager at John Deere, staff director for the House Committee Agriculture’s Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, and a member of the staff of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
“Our mission with all our farm locations is to engage with people and offer a memorable family experience that will educate and create a positive awareness of agriculture,” said Wegmeyer. “Good agriculture policy starts with consumers understanding a little bit about what it takes to grow food. We have a passion for agriculture, and for us, it’s much more than just producing a high-yielding crop. We aim to make a difference in the public’s perception of how food is grown.”
Wegmeyer utilizes the latest technology and conservation practices in all aspects of his business to protect the environment directly and indirectly. Tablets and smartphones take payment, track inventory, map fields, market their produce, and act as a portable office. Strawberry and other water sensitive vegetable crops are drip irrigated and the pumpkin wholesale fields, along with corn and soybeans, are no-tilled into cover crops using a roller-crimper.
He also uses the latest nozzle technology to enable crop-protection products to work the best they can. Besides yearly soil sampling, weekly plant tissue samplings are pulled to achieve optimal nutrient management. Most of the technology Wegmeyer uses is transparent and visible to the public, especially in u-pick fields. This visibility creates opportunity for dialogue with customers.
Since its inception in 1990, the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year Award has evolved into the most-prestigious honor in the Southeast and nation with 225 agribusiness leaders being honored for their “excellence in agriculture.”
Ten states participate in the program: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. In the previous 26 years of the award, more than $1,044,000 has been awarded to state and overall winners.
Each state winner receives $2,500 and an all-expense-paid trip to Expo along with various other prizes. The overall Southeastern winner receives $15,000 and other prizes from the sponsors.