Virginia college students debate agricultural issues

Published 8:30 am Saturday, December 10, 2022

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Twelve Virginia-based college students discussed agricultural issues impacting Virginia’s farmers at Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s 15th Annual Collegiate Young Farmers Discussion Meet, held Nov. 11 in Blacksburg.

The competition is designed to simulate a roundtable committee meeting, giving contestants an opportunity to articulate issues and present solutions on various industry topics. In the final round, four state finalists shared ideas on how farmers can continue to shape climate initiatives.

First runner-up Kate Shifflett, a junior at Virginia Tech, said blame often is placed on agriculture when it comes to greenhouse emissions. She cited studies showing that agriculture contributes to about 10% of U.S. emissions, compared to other economic sectors emitting at significantly higher levels.

And farmers are doing their part to capture carbon emissions with best management practices.

“The soil absorbs a lot of emissions,” Shifflett said, explaining the benefits of carbon-sequestering soil management methods like no-till farming. “Trees also are important for taking carbon out of the air. So, if we’re cutting into those emissions, it will take our total 10% contribution down.”

Jewel Raines, a first-year student at Virginia Highlands Community College, said farmers are demonstrating stewardship with conservation techniques.

“We need to hold ourselves accountable as agriculturalists,” she said. “It is the land we toil on, and we need to be using the best management practices available.”

Contest winner Bailey Watson, a senior at Virginia Tech, agreed, and discussed water quality goals established to help protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“There are programs out there to benefit farmers who implement these environmental practices,” she said. “But are they being used, and are all farmers aware of these programs? If we don’t meet our goal and certain practices become mandatory, it will be difficult on farmers.”

Maddie Moore, a junior at Virginia Tech, said sustainability is the common root of these efforts, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

“When there are systems out there that are successful, we as young farmers and agriculturalists need to be the advocates for that,” Moore said. “Just because a practice works for a farmer out West, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for a farmer here in Virginia. Sharing those practices and techniques will make it a little easier to see a ripple effect of positivity when it comes to climate change and agriculture.”

All contestants were awarded cash prizes, scholarships or Farm Bureau convention travel packages.