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Fair takes agriculture spin with a special series of conferences

The Halifax County Fair 100th Anniversary has a new building, an inflatable structure that is being contributed for fair week by Lindstrand USA.  Christened the “Agriculture Innovation Center,” a series of conferences on “Agriculture in the 21st Century” is planned next week while the fair is in the county.

On Wednesday, “Forestry and Timber in Southern Virginia” is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Michael Elliott, forester for Morgan Lumber Company, will speak on procurement of timber.  Joining Elliott will be Jason Fisher, extension agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources, who will talk about local fuel for local food and Dave Snyder, regional forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry, who will talk about riparian forests – wooded buffer zones along streams and rivers.

In talking about the upcoming conference, Elliott said, “Timber is a renewable resource and for the most part is considered a stable investment. Most people would be amazed at how much timber is used to diversify investment portfolios…. And, looking to the future, there will be more and more demand for timber through woody biomass needed for clean or renewable energy technologies.”

On Thursday, “Land and Water Conservation Technology” will be presented. 

Raymond Cocke, district conservationist with the USDA, will speak in detail on the newest easement and financial assistance programs available through the USDA:  conservation stewardship, grassland and wetlands reserve and environmental quality incentives.  

In talking about the newest program for conservation stewardship, Cocke said, “The program is designed primarily to enroll existing farmland, such as timber, pasture, cropland into a five-year agreement” with reimbursement based upon the level of conservation stewardship that is presently on the farm and additional practices applied over the next five years.  The first applications were taken this year, and currently there are four farms in the program.

Joining Cocke will be Katie Martin, private lands and wildlife biologist with the Central VA Conservation Office, who will be talking about “idle crop lands, fescue conversion to warm season grasses to increase grazing, and Dave Snyder, easement manager for the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, who will be speaking on reforestation and conservation easements on farms and forests.

On Friday, “New Crops in the 21st Century” will feature Steve Bowen, environmental services manager for Piedmont Geriatric Hospital, who will talk about the latest power project at his facility that produces steam from warm season grasses using their existing boiler system. 

Joining Bowen will be Ken Moss, owner of Piedmont BioProducts in Gretna, who will talk about his operation of converting switchgrass to heating fuel, and Jes Sprouse, owner of Sprouse Industries, who will talk about converting algae to auto fuel.  Sprouse will demonstrate an algae-fueled automobile.

On Saturday, the conference series will come to a close with “Niche Farming,” looking at marketing farms and farmlands toward a specialized consumer base. 

Charles Stallard, president of Southern Virginia Botanical Gardens, will talk about niche farming and environments suitable for our area. 

“Niche market is usually a small market not being addressed by commercial providers.  This presents opportunities to people starting out, helping them to get a food-hold, which is difficult in established markets,” Stallard said.

Using his great-great-grandmother as a role model, Stallard added, “She was unique and always experimenting with products. She was always looking for what people wanted and walked five miles a day to deliver products by hand.”

Joining Stallard will be Joseph and Robert Pavalchak, owners of United Earth Hydroponics, and Hudson Reese, president of Reese’s Farms, who will talk about the history and operations of Reese’s Farms, a fourth generation business.

The “Agriculture in the 21st Century” conference series will be sponsored by H&M Logging,  Huber Engineered Wood, Old Dominion Electric Co-Op, Reese’s Farms and R.B. Tucker Auction and Realty.

Conferences are held 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day.  Fair admission is free to all conference attendees Wednesday through Friday. Conference attendance on Saturday is free with paid fair admission. 

The Halifax County Fair 100th Anniversary is presented by Cherokee Brands, LLC, and Glerin Business Resources, Lakes Media (WHLF 95.3, WLUS 98.3, 1045 The Dan.com) and 103.3 WAKG in partnership with the Friends of the Halifax County Fair.