Virginia’s farming future discussed at Summer Expo

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, August 17, 2022

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More than 200 young farmers and budding agriculturalists gathered to network and discuss agricultural issues at the 2022 Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Summer Expo, held July 29-31 in Wytheville.

The expo kicked off with a keynote speech from Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Joe Guthrie, who encouraged attendees to explore foreign markets for their products.

Guthrie also participated in a panel discussion with Del. David Reid, D-Ashburn, and Del. Marie March, R-Floyd. The trio answered questions from the audience about the increasing difficulty of obtaining land; labor shortages; and solar facilities, and how lawmakers can help solve those issues.

Attendees took part in workshops about the National Cattlemen’s Beef Quality Assurance program, drone piloting, pesticide certification and managing family dynamics on the farm. The expo also featured tours to Wytheville-area dairies and agritourism destinations.

During the event’s awards dinner, farmers and VFBF staff were recognized for their outstanding achievements in supporting Virginia agriculture.

Jacob and Jennifer Gilley, who operate Heaven’s Hollow Farm in Orange and Madison counties, took home the VFBF Young Farmers Excellence in Agriculture Award. The award recognizes involvement in agriculture, leadership ability and participation in Farm Bureau and other organizations.

On their farm, the Gilleys raise broiler chickens, cattle, pigs and sheep; and market meat and eggs under the Heaven’s Hollow Farm brand. The couple represents District 7 on the VFBF Young Farmers Committee, and Jacob serves as president of Orange County Farm Bureau.

Tanner Wise of Buckingham County was named the 2022 VFBF Outstanding Young Agriculturalist. The award honors high school juniors and seniors for academic, community and agribusiness achievements.

Wise earned dual degrees from Buckingham County High School and Southside Virginia Community College, and plans to pursue a degree in animal and poultry science at Virginia Tech. He also served as president of his high school’s FFA chapter and the Buckingham County 4-H Livestock Club.

Additionally, the Young Farmers Committee presented its Warren Beach Award to Ron Saacke, VFBF vice president of special programs, in recognition of nearly two decades of dedication and outstanding contributions to the Young Farmers Program.


The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Women’s Leadership Committee’s Hay Bale Decorating Contest is back, and individuals and organizations are invited to help celebrate agriculture with imaginative hay bale displays.

For eight years, the committee has encouraged communities across Virginia to highlight their love for farming through creative displays.

“It’s a fun way for people to come together, build something out of hay bales and express their voices and artistic side,” said Susan Harrell, Southeast District leader for the VFBF Women’s Leadership Committee. “It’s not just for the kids — adults enjoy getting involved too and sharing their creativity through agriculture.”

Applications will be accepted from Sept. 1 through Nov. 1. The contest is open to anyone, including farmers markets, farm supply businesses, student groups, community associations, individuals and county Farm Bureaus.

Participants can showcase their ingenuity by converting round or square bales into animals, structures, shapes and farmscapes. Other items such as corn stalks, farm tools, pallets and pumpkins can be used alongside bales to create various scenes.

Participants are required to include a photograph of the hay bale display with each application.

There are five classes: best promotional display for agriculture business or commodity; best promotional display for community spirit; most creative; best agricultural theme; and best agribusiness, FFA, 4-H or school display. Winners will be selected in each category and will receive a cash award.

Photos of contest entries will be displayed in late November at the 2022 VFBF Annual Convention in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

Last year’s contest received a record 52 entries, with displays encompassing farm animals, aquaculture, horticulture, farm machinery and farm safety. Winning entries included a scene encouraging people to drive carefully during fall harvest season; a train made of hay bales celebrating Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations like FFA and Agriculture in the Classroom; and two creative displays of a fish and an owl made of round bales.

The displays generate a lasting impression and typically are placed near schools, outside of businesses, at county Farm Bureau offices and in people’s yards.

“It’s fun for everyone to ride around and see the different displays throughout the counties and state,” Harrell added.