CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill introduced into the West Virginia Senate and a companion bill in the House is designed to give a helping hand to veterans who want to farm.
West Virginia Senate Bill 469 is intended to create a program to support veterans into the field of agriculture.
The bill, if passed, would allow land owned by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to be farmed by veterans.
The bill creates the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Fund, which will help fund the program through the state department of agriculture.
A similar bill, West Virginia House Bill 4439, has also been introduced.
State Sen. Ronald Miller, D-Greenbrier, sponsored the bill in the Senate. Miller is chair of the agriculture and rural development committee.
“It will help provide jobs for those that are struggling after serving our country,” said Miller.
He said many soldiers return home from military service and struggle to find gainful employment or their niche.
This program will help teach those interested in agriculture about farming.
Miller said the department currently has a cap of $1.5 million on its funding from leasing land it owns and other programs. The money generated above that goes into the state general fund.
If the legislation if approved, the money above that $1.5 million will now be diverted into the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture fund.
James McCormick, director of the Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture project, said the program will be what veterans need to get their start in agriculture, a chance that might not be available through the existing veterans programs.
McCormick said the big thing this bill will provide that is not always available is land for veterans to use. He said veterans can obtain smaller tracts of land through veterans programs but not the acreage needed for agriculture. He said veterans could lease 10-15 acre sections from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture which are not being used for anything right now.
He said that tracts of land around that size are enough for veterans to get an agribusiness in specialties such as sweet potatoes, cabbage or honey production. McCormick added that there will be a total of 25 specialties that veterans can get started in. He said he expects produce to be a big choice in the southern part of the state especially because of the farmer’s markets already in existence.
In addition to funding from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, however, private funding will also be needed.
According to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, the Robert and Louise Claflin Foundation has already donated $5,510 to assist in funding the Veterans and Warriors To Agriculture Program.
The funds will be used specifically to establish 10 bee hives, protective fencing around the hives and the planting of various berry bushes on a tract of WVDA owned property in Mason County, which is below Gallia County in Ohio.
Veterans will tend to the apiary operation and, in turn, gain training that could help them establish their own agribusiness.