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Ten Virginia agriculture-related projects receive $556,321 in grant funding to advance specialty crop production and increase economic development



RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced an award of $556,321 in grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for ten Virginia agriculture-related projects. The project awards resulted from a competitive grant process established by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) for the USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant funds.

“Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private industry, and in order to stay competitive in a global economy and sustain positive long-term growth in this sector, we must invest in quality, innovative research and technological advancements,” said Governor Northam. “These grants will support projects that improve the competitiveness of Virginia’s specialty crops and generate more economic development opportunities for growers in all parts of the Commonwealth.”

“This announcement exemplifies the Governor’s commitment of keeping Virginia farmers and agricultural producers at the forefront of rural economic development,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “These projects illustrate Virginia’s extremely diversified agricultural interests and further our goal of feeding a growing global population.”

Projects range from helping produce farmers comply with new federal and state laws ensuring produce safety, to expanding the use of mason bees as pollinators or researching ways to develop new maple syrup production capacity. Specialty crops including broccoli and other brassicas, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn, honey, tree fruits, melons, strawberries and more will benefit from the grants.

VDACS awarded grants totaling $556,321 to the following recipients and projects:

  • Making Food Safety Certification Attainable for Virginia Farmers While Preparing for Potential Market Changes, Kathlyn Terry, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Abingdon
    Appalachian Sustainable Development will enhance the competitiveness of fresh fruits and vegetables by providing training and one-on-one technical assistance to specialty crop farmers across Virginia. Produce farmers will be prepared to obtain USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Harmonized GAP, or Harmonized GAP with Global Addendum certification and will be prepared for Global GAP should the markets make such a change necessary. Additionally, producers will be prepared to meet the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule requirements with the addition of Produce Safety Alliance Grower Trainings.
  • Vertical Farming of Strawberries in Greenhouses with Mason Bees for Pollination, Dr. Lisa Horth, Old Dominion University, Norfolk
    Researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of mason bees for pollination of the strawberry specialty crop within a greenhouse vertical farming layout. This work evaluates the benefits of vertical farming of berry crops, and the use of mason bees for pollination of strawberries. The results will be presented at a national scientific meeting and published in a peer-reviewed journal for dissemination to a wide audience.
  • Exploring Anaerobic Soil Disinfection (ASD) for Improved Vegetable Crops in Virginia, Dr. Steve Rideout, Virginia Tech (VT), Blacksburg
    Researchers will explore ASD in Virginia to assist growers in understanding and implementing this promising management tool. Proper ASD involves incorporation of a carbon source into soil during the bedding/plastic mulch application followed by subsequent irrigation to saturate the soil just beyond the water holding capacity. This greatly enhances the activity of anaerobic soil microbes (by lowering oxygen availability), creating an unfavorable environment for the growth and survival of pathogens that infect vegetables. ASD is a technique that has been investigated as an alternative to fumigation in vegetable cropping systems in California, Florida, Tennessee and Ohio.
  • Assessing and Addressing Educational Needs of Exploratory/Beginning Growers of Hydroponic Produce for Local Markets, Dr. Holly Scoggins of VT, VT and Virginia State University (VSU), Blacksburg and Petersburg
    Researchers will assist exploratory and beginning commercial growers by assessing current needs, evaluating hydroponic growing systems, and delivering educational programs via workshops and development of multi-media educational resources for long-term stakeholder usage.
  • Cider Production from Virginia Grown Apples: Managing Yeast Nutrition during Fermentation for Targeted Cider Aroma and Style, Dr. Amanda Stewart, VT, Blacksburg
    Researchers will develop strategies for nitrogen-rich yeast nutrient management to retain desired fruit aromas during cider fermentation, and will disseminate results to stakeholders through state and regional workshops, extension publications, and industry-led field days. 
  • Model-guided Bloom Thinning Applications for Managing Crop Load and Disease Pressure in Apple Orchards, Dr. Sherif Sherif, VT, Winchester
    Researchers will determine and recommend chemical thinning strategies that optimize crop load, improve fruit quality, enhance return bloom and reduce disease pressure in apple orchards. The project will focus on evaluating chemicals, rates and models that can be applied at the bloom stage to supplement post-bloom thinning applications and to ensure effective management of crop load and early-season diseases. Research findings will be communicated to apple growers and stakeholders in Virginia through the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center’s program.
  • Expanding Livelihood Options for Virginia Land Owners through Tree Syrup Production, Dr. Tom Hammett, VT, Blacksburg
    Researchers will seek to increase the competitiveness of the Virginia maple syrup sector by assisting Virginia landowners and farmers in developing new maple syrup production capacity, value-added products, improved markets, and related practices that result in increased awareness of income generation and nutrition opportunities.
  • Building a Bridge Between Virginia Hops Growers and Brewers: Studying the Impact of Terroir and Postharvest Handling on Flavor and Quality, Dr. Yun Yin of VT, Dr. Yixiang Xu of VSU and Dr. Laban Rutto of VSU, Blacksburg and Petersburg
    The overarching goal is to strengthen the working relationship between Virginia hops growers and brewers and enhance the market competitiveness of Virginia grown hops. Research will focus on the areas of the flavor profile and quality of region-specific hops varieties as affected by terroir and post-harvest practices. 
  • Evaluation of Organic and Biodynamic Weed Control Options for Specialty Crops in Virginia, Dr. Jeffery Derr, VT, Virginia Beach
    Researchers will investigate organic and biodynamic weed control methods to determine crop safety and control of troublesome weeds for producers of vegetable, fruit and nursery crops. Research results will be disseminated at grower meetings and field days as well as through extension publications and newsletter articles.
  • Novel Approach to Control Multiple Major Diseases on Nursery Crops with Plant Endophyte, Dr. Ping Kong, VT, Virginia Beach
    Researchers will develop a biologically based technique that targets multiple major diseases affecting a variety of ornamental crops. Results of this study will be disseminated to end users through grower meetings and field days. This technology will enable growers to build crop health into their products, boosting consumer satisfaction and improving the competitiveness of the horticultural industry in the Commonwealth.

The Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 authorizes the USDA to provide funds to the states to promote crops including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery products. When considering grants for the USDA Specialty Crop Program, VDACS gave priority to projects that included the following activities: Assisting farmers transitioning into specialty, high-value agricultural initiatives that address the eligible specialty crops; increasing net farm income through high-value or value-added enterprises; finding new ways to market or add value to specialty agricultural products and/or developing pilot and demonstration programs in specialty agriculture that have the potential for transferability within rural Virginia.

For more information on specialty crops in Virginia, contact VDACS’ Division of Marketing and Development at (804) 786-5448.

State News

Virginia selected for NGA “Parole Authorities as Key Partners in Achieving Sound Criminal Justice Policy Goals” project



Governor Ralph Northam, file photo.

RICHMOND—Governor Northam announced on Friday, January 18th, that the National Governors Association’s (NGA) Center for Best Practices and the National Parole Resource Center (NPRC) selected Virginia—along with Pennsylvania and New Jersey—to participate in a nine-month learning collaborative on paroling authorities as key partners in achieving sound criminal justice policy goals and practices.

“Sound decision making and strong partnerships are among the most important strategies to ensuring sustained positive outcomes for Virginia’s parole and criminal justice systems,” said Governor Northam. “I appreciate the opportunity to work with our federal partners and other states to learn about how the Commonwealth can continue to apply best practices in parole policy, enhance collaboration among all stakeholders, and keep providing Virginians who have served their time an opportunity reenter society as productive citizens.”

Virginia’s project team will be led by Brian J. Moran, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, and includes Adrianne L. Bennett, Chair of the Virginia Parole Board; Linda L. Bryant, Parole Board Member; Harold Clarke, Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections; Mark Sickles, Virginia State Delegate; and Dr. Larry Terry, Executive Director of the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

“Virginia has maintained the lowest recidivism rate in the nation for three years in a row, largely because of our ability to recognize and adapt to emerging challenges and complexities within our criminal justice system,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran. “We must remain proactive and continue to implement best practices that will enhance public safety and improve outcomes for the individuals we serve.”

Paroling authorities play a critical role in enhancing public safety and improving outcomes for individuals reentering the community by applying appropriate release conditions, providing appropriate levels of supervision, and assisting with home plans and other supportive factors that are critical to successful reentry. This learning collaborative will allow Virginia to identify best practices and strategies to strengthen collaboration between public safety and criminal justice stakeholders through workshops, stakeholder engagement, technical assistance from the NGA.

“We are honored for this opportunity, an opportunity that comes at a critical moment for Virginia’s correctional and parole systems,” said Adrianne Bennett, Chairperson of Virginia’s Parole Board. “As Virginia’s prison population continues to age and prison health care costs continue to surge, we must ensure those who are granted parole, who will often have complex needs after serving decades in prison, are able to rejoin their communities, be productive in those communities, and provide positive contributions to those communities so that we can ensure public safety first and foremost at all times. We look forward to learning from and working the NGA and the two other selected states.”

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State News

Governor Northam announces over $600,000 in Farmland Preservation Grants



Emridout [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced the recipients of fiscal year 2019 farmland preservation grants. Six localities have been awarded a total of $633,831 from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (VDACS) Office of Farmland Preservation. The funds will be used to permanently preserve working farmland through local Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) programs. PDR programs compensate landowners who work with localities to preserve their land permanently by voluntarily securing a perpetual conservation easement.

VDACS has allocated funding to Albemarle, Clarke, Fauquier and Stafford counties as well as the cities of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach. These grant allocations bring the total allocation of state matching funds to $12.4 million since 2008, when PDR funds were first distributed.

“Preserving Virginia’s working farm and forest lands is a key priority of my administration and a central component to our land conservation strategy,” said Governor Northam. “By helping these localities and individual landowners protect their most valuable assets, we will ensure that our agricultural sector—Virginia’s largest private industry—remains viable, sustains more than 442,000 jobs in our Commonwealth, and supports our environmental management efforts.”

“The vitality of our economy, which is built upon agriculture and tourism, is dependent on preserving open spaces,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “Keeping working farm and forest lands in production is good for Virginia, good for the environment, and good for the economy.”

“Investing in conservation remains a priority for Virginia,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matt Strickler. “Land conservation is an important tool in preserving critical ecological habitats throughout the Commonwealth.”

This is the twelfth time that the Commonwealth has provided state matching funds for certified local PDR programs. Of the 23 local PDR programs in Virginia, 19 have received local funding over the past few years. To date, more than 13,300 acres on 95 farms in 16 localities have been permanently protected, in part with $11.4 million of these funds. VDACS expect that additional easements will close using the remaining funds over the next two years.

Localities interested in creating a PDR program or applying for future rounds of grant applications for PDR matching funds should contact the VDACS Office of Farmland Preservation Coordinator, Jen Perkins, at or (804) 786-1906.

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Local News

State police respond to crashes, disabled vehicles during snowstorm



A Virginia state trooper's vehicle is parked along a Loudoun County roadway Sunday afternoon. /Courtesy photo.

As temperatures dropped Sunday evening, Virginia State Police urged motorists to avoid traveling overnight. VSP spokesman Corrine Geller said that wet and/or snow-covered roads were expected to ice, creating treacherous conditions for motorists across the Commonwealth.

Conditions Sunday ranged from snow-covered highways along the I-81 corridor and Northern Virginia to heavy rain across eastern Virginia.

From 12 a.m. Sunday (Jan. 13) through 5:30 p.m., Virginia State Police troopers responded to 324 traffic crashes and assisted 196 disabled/stuck motorists statewide. The majority of crashes involved only damaged vehicles, Geller said.

In addition to those totals, state police troopers continue investigating 44 traffic crashes across the state. While state police in the Richmond Division responded to the most traffic crashes, the state police Fairfax Division responded to the most disabled/stuck vehicles. There has been one storm-related fatal crash, in Brunswick County.

From 12 a.m. Sunday thru 5:30 p.m. Sunday, state troopers responded to:
Richmond Division: 107 traffic crashes & 29 disabled vehicles
Culpeper Division: 40 traffic crashes & 30 disabled vehicles
Appomattox Division: 28 traffic crashes & 13 disabled vehicles
Wytheville Division: 12 traffic crashes & 4 disabled vehicles
Chesapeake Division: 49 traffic crashes & 21 disabled vehicles
Salem Division: 18 traffic crashes and 18 disabled vehicles
Fairfax Division: 68 traffic crashes and 81 disabled vehicles

VSP investigated three fatal crashes since Saturday night (Jan. 12):
1/12/19 – Pulaski County on Interstate 81 (1 fatality) – STORM-RELATED
1/13/19 – Brunswick County on a rural road (1 fatality – 16 yr old male passenger)
1/13/19 – City of Norfolk on Interstate 64 (1 fatality)
Pulaski County:
At 8:51 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 12, 2019), Virginia State Police Trooper J.L. Simone responded to a three-vehicle crash at the 90-mile marker in the southbound lanes of Interstate 81 in Pulaski County.

A 1991 Oshkosh M1074 (military surplus vehicle) was traveling south on I-81 when its driver lost control due to the slick road conditions. The vehicle was then struck by two southbound tractor-trailers. The M1074 and one of the tractor-trailers came to rest in the median.

The impact of the crash caused the other tractor-trailer to run off the left side of the highway, continue through the median, through the guardrail, cross over northbound lanes of I-81 and strike a fence.

The driver of the M1074, Ronald W. Harris, 73, of Gainesville, Ga., did not survive the crash and died at the scene.

Each tractor-trailer driver was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries. Geller had no additional information on the drivers.

The Virginia State Police Wytheville Division’s Crash Reconstruction Team responded to the scene and is  assisting with the ongoing crash investigation.

Geller said Virginians should call 511 or go to for road conditions and not 911 or #77.  Those numbers should only be used for emergency situations.

State police remind motorists to take the following safety precautions:

· Clear off ALL snow and ice from your vehicle – windows, roof, trunk and lights…and use your headlights to make yourself more visible
· Add extra time to reach travel destination
· Slow speed for road conditions
· Increase driving distances between vehicles for increased stopping distance
· Buckle up and don’t drive distracted
· MOVE OVER for all stopped emergency vehicles, highway vehicles and tow trucks.

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State News

December 2018 General Fund revenue collections down 5.7% from previous year and fiscal-year-to-date collections up 1.5%



RICHMOND—Governor Northam announced January 11th,  that December General Fund revenue decreased 5.7 percent from the previous year, mainly due to a significant drop in individual estimated payments received ahead of the January 15th due date. Sources most closely tied to economic activity—payroll withholding and sales tax collections—posted strong growth. On a fiscal year-to-date basis, total revenue collections rose 1.5 percent through December, trailing the revised annual forecast of 5.9 percent growth.

Although collections are lagging the annual estimate, growth is expected to be higher in the second half of the fiscal year due to effects of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Because the timing of payments at this time of year can distort growth in several sources, December and January collections should be viewed together to accurately assess growth. This is especially true for non-withholding receipts where fourth quarter estimated payments for the calendar year are normally split between December and January. As a result of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, last December’s individual estimated payments totaled $403.8 million as compared to this year’s $108 million.

“This report indicates that the underlying fundamentals of Virginia’s economy remain strong,” said Governor Northam. “As we begin this General Assembly session in Richmond, we have the opportunity to ensure positive revenue growth for the rest of the year by keeping our focus on creating well-paid, 21st century jobs, and investing in core priorities that will continue to expand and diversify our economic base.”

Collections of payroll withholding taxes rose a strong 11.9 percent in December. Through the end of December, the partial federal government shutdown has had no effect on receipts because payments are received from agencies at the beginning of the month, prior to the start of the shutdown. Collections of sales and use taxes, reflecting November sales, were up 7.7 percent in December. November represents the beginning of the holiday shopping season and a clearer assessment of the season will be possible after receiving December sales tax payments due in January. Finally, collections of wills, suits, deeds, and contracts—mainly recordation tax collections—were $32.0 million in December, compared with $32.4 million in December of last year for a decline of 1.3 percent.

Year-to-date, withholding collections are 4.5 percent ahead of the same period last year and ahead of the revised annual estimate of 3.8 percent growth. Year to-date collections of non-withholding were $828.2 million compared with $1,045.5 million in the same period last year, a 20.8 percent decline compared with the annual estimate of a 15.2 percent increase. A clearer assessment of growth will be possible at the end of January, when all quarterly payments have been received and December and January collections can be considered together. However, since some of the extremely large payments from individuals received last December were in fact a proxy for their May 1st final payment, it may be until May before a complete analysis can be done.

On a year-to-date basis, sales tax collections have risen 4.8 percent, ahead of the annual estimate of 3.7 percent growth. Corporate income tax collections for the first half of the fiscal year have risen 1.2 percent from the same period last year, but are behind the annual estimate of a 5.6 percent increase. On a fiscal year-to-date basis, total revenue collections rose 1.5 percent through December, behind the revised annual forecast of 5.9 percent growth.

To view the full report, click here.

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State News

New Virginia State Police public information officer appointed to Culpeper Division



New public information officer, Sgt. Brent Coffey.

CULPEPER, VA – Virginia State Police Captain Donald W. Jones Jr. is proud to announce the Culpeper Division has a new public information officer (PIO), Sgt. Brent Coffey. Sgt. Coffey’s assignment became effective Jan. 10, 2018, and he takes the place of Sgt. Les Tyler, who retired Jan. 1, 2018 after 35 years of service with state police.

Sgt. Coffey joined the Virginia State Police in 2012. Upon graduation from the State Police Academy he has been assigned to the Culpeper Division’s Area 15 Office located in Culpeper County. During his tenure with VSP, Sgt. Coffey has served as a Field Training Officer, has been assigned to the Tactical Field Force and has been a member of the Culpeper Division’s Crash Reconstruction Team.

Sgt. Coffey is responsible for media and public relations within the Culpeper Division, which encompasses 13 counties: Clarke, Culpeper, Fauquier, Frederick, Madison, Orange, Page, Rappahannock, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Spotsylvania, Stafford and Warren; and the cities of Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg and Winchester.

Sgt. Coffey can be reached at (office) 540-829-7713, (cell) 540-881-0023 and by email at

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State News

Governor Northam and Legislators announce bipartisan proposal for dedicated funding to improve Interstate 81



By Famartin - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam announced on January 8th, a legislative proposal that will fund $2.2 billion in critical improvements along the Interstate 81 (1-81) Corridor. The legislation is a result of a year-long study completed by the Commonwealth Transportation Board at the direction of the General Assembly.

“Interstate 81 is the economic engine of western Virginia, and it’s time we take decisive action to enhance the safety and improve the reliability of this key corridor,” said Governor Northam. “I am committed to working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to establish a dedicated funding source that will support the critical improvements that Interstate 81 needs to move goods and people around the Commonwealth.”

The initial draft legislation would establish an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund supported by tolls along I-81. The proposal would establish limits on toll rates and give automobiles and small trucks the ability to purchase an annual pass allowing unlimited use of I-81 for a fixed yearly fee. Revenues collected would only be used for improvements included in the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan that was adopted by the Board at its December meeting.

“Interstate 81 is a critical element of Virginia’s transportation infrastructure,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “Dedicated funding will allow us to make significant capital, multimodal, and operational improvements to I-81 promoting safety and economic growth.”

The Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Program legislation will be patroned by Senators Mark Obenshain and Bill Carrico in the Senate, and by Delegates Steve Landes and Terry Austin in the House.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to address longstanding issues on the I-81 Corridor,” said Senator Mark Obenshain. “I will continue to work with the Northam administration and with my colleagues in the General Assembly in hope that we can find bipartisan solutions to the critical reliability and safety issues in this region of the Commonwealth.”

“The hard-working citizens in the communities on the I-81 Corridor deserve a viable, long-term solution to the challenges of travel along this route,” said Delegate Steve Landes. “A focus on key improvements and dedicated funding for the corridor will positively affect those who rely on it every day.”

“The residents along the 81 Corridor have called for a safer, more dependable interstate,” said Delegate Chris Hurst. “The time to make these important improvements is now.”

“I-81 is a crucial resource for commerce and for the citizens of Southwest Virginia,” said Senator Bill Carrico. “Carrying 12 million trucks each year, this interstate highway is important for rural economic development in the area.”

“We are listening to the citizens who have told us that 81 needs to be improved,” said Delegate Terry Austin. “I am committed to finding a commonsense solution for I-81 to address safety and reliability.

The Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan can be found at

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