Farming Background Guides Va. Milk Commission Administrator

5/24/2014 7:00 AM
By Linda McNatt Va./N.C. Correspondent

Crafton O. Wilkes remembers those days following his dad around the dairy farms of Franklin County, Va. His father was a large animal vet, he said, and he frequently accompanied his dad on farm calls.

The experience taught him a respect for what his father did for a living and a respect for the animals his father cared for.

Soon, the Franklin County native will be administrator of the Virginia Milk Commission.

“I knew I wanted to be involved in agriculture when I was a child,” he said. “My dad and I probably went to most of the dairy farms in Franklin County at one time or another.”

That was a lot of farms. Franklin County is ranked second in Virginia for dairy production.

Years later, Wilkes said he found himself enrolled in dairy science at Virginia Tech. It seemed the natural thing to do. Wilkes graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 2003 and in 2005 got his master’s degree in dairy science.

Having served as dairy audit supervisor for the commission, he was recently appointed to administrator by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Wilkes will take over this new position June 1.

“I have been with the Milk Commission as the dairy audit supervisor for a year, since April 2013,” Wilkes said in a recent telephone interview. “As administrator, my goals for the Milk Commission will not change.”

His job will entail assuring Virginians have a constant supply of Grade A fluid milk at a fair price, maintaining a base system that sufficiently satisfies the demand for fluid milk in Virginia and ensuring that licensed processors and distributors are allotted an equitable share of the milk supply to satisfy their needs for milk sales in the state.

Before joining the milk commission, Wilkes worked as a territory manager for Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica Inc. in eastern New York and New England and served a broad range of dairy veterinarians, producers, retailers and consumers. Throughout his career, Wilkes has worked in support of animal agriculture and the dairy industry, according to the press release from Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office.

In addition to his experience in the industry and his years following his dad around dairy farms, Wilkes said he drinks a glass of milk at least twice a day.

“Probably more if you were to count the milk they put in my coffee when I visit the coffee shop next door,” he said, from his Richmond, Va., office.

Wilkes said he’d like to keep his impact on the state’s dairy producers to a minimum.

“But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be involved,” he said. “The Milk Commission maintains a system that is designed to benefit everyone that is involved in dairy — producers, processors, consumers, etc. When a system is functioning properly, you will hardly notice, and that’s how I would like to keep it.”

He said he doesn’t see any drastic changes in the near future. The commission has been around in Virginia since 1934, he said, and it operates today in much the same way it did then.

“I am very fortunate to have a staff with a lot of dairy accounting experience; upwards of 90 years combined” between five auditors, he said. “Between the staff and my predecessor, Mr. Rodney Phillips, the Milk Commission is in good shape.

“With that being said, some of my professors at Virginia Tech instilled a love of spreadsheets in me and the files we currently use are a little dated. I would like to update them for a couple of reasons: to automate some of the functions and because it significantly reduces files sizes, which would in turn reduce our server storage costs.”

As far as the rising milk prices in Virginia — they’re also predicted to rise nationwide — Wilkes said he doesn’t like to speculate on the future.

“Milk prices will be dealt with as the situation arises,” he said.

His family includes his wife of eight years, Sarah, and their 9-month-old daughter, Felicity June.

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