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Va. Ag Expo Highlights Hampton Roads Farm

8/17/2013 7:00 AM
By Linda McNatt Va./N.C. Correspondent

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Two early morning showers called for umbrellas and made the fields muddy at Jon Horsley’s Land of Promise Farm in the Back Bay section of Virginia Beach.

But Watson Lawrence, Virginia Tech Extension agent in Chesapeake, wasn’t bothered.

“This is a blessing,” Lawrence said, standing beneath the shade of a tree, enjoying the cool breeze. “I’ve been involved with this for 17 years, and I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t just plain hot.”

Just after 10 a.m., people were just beginning to roll into the Virginia Ag Expo, held on Aug. 1. There were fewer field tours than planned because of the weather, and the showers may have held up people from northeast North Carolina who usually attend the event. But still, hundreds of farmers, ag industry professionals and other interested parties from across the mid-Atlantic attended, said Ben Rowe, managing director of the Virginia Grain Producers Association, one of the event sponsors.

The expo, also sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Soybean Association, marked the first time the event had been brought so deep into Hampton Roads, said Lawrence. It’s typically held on the North Neck or on the Eastern Shore, he said.

Horsley volunteered to host the event after he was selected Virginia’s Farmer of the Year in 2011.

Those attending toured wide fields of tall soybeans and corn and stopped briefly to eye a test plot of sorghum that Horsley is growing on the farm.

“He’s not going to plant much sorghum yet,” said Lawrence. “This land is just too good for corn. He’s going to take advantage of that.”

Grain sorghum is one alternative feed the state’s hog producers are looking to use, said Mark Estienne, a hog specialist at the Virginia Tech Research and Extension Center in Suffolk.

“There’s been a dramatic decrease in the number of hog farms in the state, but the number of hogs has remained constant because of large producers like Murphy-Brown, the company that raises hogs for Smithfield Packing,” Estienne said.

There has also been an increase in the number of small farms raising anywhere from one to 24 hogs at a time because of the interest in locally-produced food, he said.

But the cost of raising hogs has been rising over the last 10 years.

From February 2006 to October 2012, corn increased from $2.10 a bushel to $7.70 a bushel — much of the country’s corn crop is now used to produce ethanol for fuel consumption.

Horsley raises 100 sows at his Land of Promise Farm.

One of the newest innovations demonstrated at the ag expo was unmanned aerial systems, similar to drones used in military operations, that are used in agriculture to keep tab on the number of plants and on plants experiencing stress that could later lead to disease.

The machines are still too closely monitored by the Federal Aviation Administration to be in widespread use, said Jim Owen, one of the developers of the system who is based at the agricultural research center in Virginia Beach.

One of the major hurdles this new piece of agriculture equipment will have to overcome are the concerns for safety and privacy, as well as the cost. Crop drones, with eight props and looking somewhat like a large spider, cost anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000. They run on batteries.

For now, drones are owned mostly by private companies and universities and are rented for use by most farmers. They’ve been a big hit in Florida, where they keep track of the number of plants in fields, and in the citrus industry, where growers are trying to stay a step ahead of diseases.

Over 140 exhibitors showcased the latest farm equipment, services and the newest agriculture technology at the expo.

Companies like Pioneer, DuPont and Conklin handed out everything from toy tractors and pencils to in-depth information about their company’s products.<\c> LF20130810S_mcnatt-ag-expo-01-02

Photos by Linda McNatt

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The Virginia Ag Expo, held at Land of Promise Farm in Virginia Beach, featured the latest in farm equipment and exhibits on new farming technology. About 1,000 people attended the event.

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4/17/2014 | Last Updated: 12:00 PM