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Virtual farm tour at State Fair prompts questions, discussion

DOSWELL—What happens on a poultry farm when the electricity goes out? Is using antibiotics for food animals bad for humans? And why don’t we hear more on the news about agriculture?

Guests at the State Fair of Virginia had questions about agricultural practices and prices.
A panel of farmers and other industry professionals provided answers Oct. 3 during the Real Virginia Virtual Farm Tour. The event also featured video tours of six Virginia farms.

Panelists were Margaret Ann Smith, a fifth-generation beef producer from Rockbridge County; David Hickman, a vegetable and grain producer from Accomack County; Spencer Neale, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation; Jonah Bowles, a VFBF agricultural market analyst; and Jim Riddell, a Louisa County cattle producer and former assistant director for agriculture and natural resource programs for Virginia Cooperative Extension.

In addition to presenting the tour to a live audience at the State Fair, Farm Bureau broadcast it live via its website at, and viewers had the opportunity to ask questions in person and forward them via email, Facebook and Twitter.

When asked how farms with large commercial poultry houses deal with electricity losses during severe storms, Neale acknowledged that a storm can be just as catastrophic for a farm as it can for other businesses. “And, as we know, sometimes the outcome isn’t good,” and flocks of birds can be lost.

Some poultry operations have backup generators, he noted, but that’s not inexpensive.
It’s a concern shared by many other livestock producers, Smith noted, explaining that her family’s cattle are watered from a well system and fenced away from streams to protect water quality. The wells have electric pumps.

“This derecho that we had (in late June) was a huge learning curve for us,” she said. “And we are in the process of buying generators.”

Asked whether her family’s beef herd is treated with antibiotics, Smith said they are, but only when they are sick.

“That’s our job,” she said, and the animals are treated with federally approved products, as prescribed by a veterinarian. Some of those antibiotics cost as much as $1,700 a bottle, she said, “so we use it sparingly,” and federal regulations prohibit animals with antibiotics in their systems from being sold for food.

She noted that there is no scientific evidence linking human antibiotic resistance to the livestock industry.

A fair audience member who recalled listening to farm reports on radio news in decades past asked why farm news is more scarce now except when disasters occur.

One reason, Hickman said, is probably that there are fewer farms. Many of the remaining ones are larger, but that still means fewer families are farming in their communities—or aware of farm issues.

Contact Greg Hicks, VFBF vice president of communications, at 804-290-1139.
Posted in: State Fair


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