The State of Local Agriculture, Social Services and Economic Development completed a series of presentations on current topics as part of the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce’s State of the Community Program on March 23 , hosted for the third year on Zoom.
“Are we there already?” Chamber CEO Jeff Say introduced the program, saying it’s a phrase he often hears from his daughters. He wonders that too, Say said, regarding the two-year pandemic.
“I feel like we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
The chamber has worked hard to keep the community connected and informed during years of distancing and isolation, Say said.
“Our community is resilient, innovative and passionate,” he said of what the show’s presenters would show.
state of agricultureCulpeper Senior Extension Officer Carl Stafford spoke about the state of agriculture, citing U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger’s recent visit to the Carver Center, where the Virginia Cooperative Extension of Culpeper will move its offices this year.
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“She likes to hear from everyone so she can take that message to the House agriculture committee,” he said.
Providing internet fiber to the site, with federal funding, opens up the rural site to house the agricultural education resource and make it a central regional location for area extension workers, Stafford said.
In agriculture, expenses drive income, he said, with significantly higher expenses for fertilizer (doubled), fuel and equipment, Stafford said. Old equipment is selling for what new equipment would usually cost, and new equipment is simply not available, he said.
Stafford showed a picture of a big piece of machinery that can cut 30 feet of hay at a time. Two of those units are used in Culpeper County, Stafford said, by farmers concerned with making hay.
The higher costs are passed on, the extension worker said, noting that many farmers are trying to do more with less work.
Carbon markets are emerging for local farmers who want to participate through land improvements and long-term pastures, Stafford said. It is an economic framework that supports the buying and selling of environmental products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Dairy farming no longer exists in Culpeper County, Stafford said. The once thriving industry was represented by a population that served the community, he said, as bank presidents and little league coaches.
Horticulture, produce and flowers grown in greenhouses, have replaced dairy in Culpeper as the economic driver, Stafford said. He said it is encouraging to see the younger generation pursuing a future in agriculture.
Plus, “the turkeys are here – they used to go down Davis Street,” the extension officer said, of medium- and large-scale turkey operations that have sprung up in recent years across the country. county.
Farmers no longer physically drive their turkeys to ship them by train downtown. Today’s poultry industry involves large-scale processing, 250 tonnes at a time, 10 large trucks and multiple rotations per year, Stafford said.
“Big opportunities,” he said of young couples investing in turkey operations in Culpeper, borrowing more than $1 million and seeing it pay off over time.
Nutrient-rich manure is also valuable to producers who buy it for use on farms.
There are more farms in Culpeper (about 600) than when Stafford started his career as an extension office in Culpeper in 1985, when there were less than 500.
Even so, there is less farmland today, he said, which means smaller farms and more intensive indoor farming, Stafford said, noting Bright Farms in Elkwood, a greenhouse operation that grows a variety of salad greens around the clock.
There is competition for the cost of land, price compression, Stafford said, which is especially important with the labor shortage.
A green roof business on Route 3 was struggling to get its sedum crop out due to temporary H2A agricultural visas, which were tied to government regulations. But the problem was eventually resolved and the crop was harvested, Stafford said.
Local support infrastructure for farmers is always important, noted the senior extension officer, cooperatives and other agricultural stores. He said these entities saw a $5 million year-over-year increase in volume and an increase in automated equipment services that grew by more than 10,000 acres.
Agritourism is the future of farming and a way forward, “If you’re willing to put up with visitors,” Stafford said, noting that locally grown foods have grown in prominence along with retail farm produce. . There is a need for local meat processing, and existing facilities will increase cooler space, he said.
A local slaughterhouse along the train tracks, he noted, is generating ethnic demand among local community members, with residents queuing to buy the halal meat.
Many Culpeper farmers have been around for decades and generations, Stafford said, and have reinvested in the community. He said this presence will continue to contribute to the local agriculture economy.
State of social servicesCulpeper’s Director of Social Services, Lisa Peacock, presented on the state of services to the underserved.
Of the county’s estimated 53,000 residents, 8.5% live in poverty and 11% of local children, she said.
For people under 65 living in Culpeper, 11% do not have health insurance. Nearly 28% of Culpeper households (16,903 total) have limited assets and limited income, but are employed, Peacock said. These are the working poor.
More than 8,200 Culpeper residents receive Medicaid, she said, noting that welfare benefits and food stamp recipients are down. In total, the community of Culpeper receives $112 million worth of social service benefits each year in community services, including Medicaid, foster care, emergency assistance, child care and care. ‘other services.
“That’s a significant number,” Peacock said.
The DSS cannot do what it does alone, she added, citing many wonderful non-profit organizations, city and county governments, the chamber and the faith community.
These groups have been working together to find housing for dozens of local homeless people living in hotels since the start of the pandemic. That funding ends March 31, Peacock said.
A newly formed End Hunger coalition is organizing to streamline food distribution in the community, she said, through Culpeper Food Closet, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, People Inc., Empowering Culpeper and Manna Ministry, among others.
“We had a wonderful response during the pandemic – no one in Culpeper County should have gone hungry,” Peacock said.
State of economic developmentCulpeper County Economic Development Director Bryan Rothamel said in his presentation that the local community has weathered the economic storm of the pandemic better than other places around Virginia, thanks in part to its great resources, its assets and its inhabitants.
There were more than 800 business license renewals in the town of Culpeper in 2020, dropping to 790 in 2021 and starting to bounce back to 22, Rothamel said.
“There are more businesses opening, but also people are spending more money in Culpeper,” he said of more than 16% growth in 2021 in local sales taxes.
Ribbon cuttings at businesses are on the rise, Rothamel said, as is the annual farm tour, which saw a 27% increase in visitors in 2021. Attendees of the farm tour came from 30 different zip codes, he said, and spent an average of 70% more. . This year, the Farm Tour will celebrate its 25th anniversary.
As for the local workforce, it is bouncing back, Rothamel said. Of the 24,888 people in it, according to the most recent data, the workforce is still down from more than 25,000 before the pandemic.
“I think the state of our community is very strong when it comes to economic growth,” he said.
For those in need of economic development assistance, free resources are available through the city’s Small Business Development Center for businesses looking to start or grow or have questions about small business financing. companies or the recruitment of new employees.