Under the backdrop of diversifying West Virginia’s economy beyond energy, Walt Helmick and Kent Leonhardt agree on the role agriculture could play in creating new markets, careers and revenue for the state.
Aside from the potential of agriculture, Helmick, the Democratic incumbent Commissioner of Agriculture from Marlinton, and Leonhardt, a Republican state senator representing Monongalia County and Helmick’s now two-time challenger in the commissioner’s race, agree on little else.
Chief among contention between the two candidates: the Potato Demonstration Project, an initiative in place by Helmick’s administration aimed at developing the potato into one of the state’s major cash crops.
Helmick, a former state senator, noted the potato was once West Virginia’s top producing crop, citing USDA figures that showed 53,000 acres dedicated to potatoes statewide in 1927, the crop’s best year. The Department of Agriculture has taken the plan’s next step, processing the potatoes for sale, when it opened its first crop “aggregation point” at the former National Guard armory in Huntington’s West End.
The first of a planned seven or eight processing facilities scattered across the state, the Huntington plant serves between 35 to 40 potato growers in Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Mason, Putnam and Jackson counties…