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Back to the future

We had a nice chat with Fauquier Delegate Michael Webert last week, conducting an interview that will be published in the Piedmont Business Journal which comes out next month.

We tracked the busy farmer to his farm office near Middleburg, where he filled us in on the doings of the Business Development Caucus, which he and three other delegates formed last spring and which has subsequently been joined by a number of others in the House.

The caucus is ready, come January and the start of the General Assembly session, to introduce its first slate of bills, all designed to make it easier, safer and more rewarding to do business in the commonwealth.

At the conclusion of our interview, the conversation turned to farming, an industry about which Mr. Webert's knowledge is extensive, and an industry that we have lately been covering in more depth in this newspaper, with recent stories about new-farmer mentoring programs, about the challenges of dairy farming, about the legislative efforts of the Virginia Farm Bureau.

Time was, and not so long ago, small family farms seemed destined to disappear, unable to compete with agribusiness and its vast purchasing power and efficiencies of scale.

Mr. Webert, who runs a large-scale commodity operation, sees a more pleasing picture emerging in Fauquier County.

We hope he's right.

Farming remains Virginia's No. 1 industry, Webert pointed out, and it will remain so for the foreseeable future.
"The way I see it," Webert told us, "is that farming in Virginia is going to be of two types. You are going to have the commodity guys like me, and you are going to have your niche farmers. Those food sources," he said of the latter, "are going to continue to be more and more viable. I don't see them going anywhere."

It's really the large farms that are in trouble, Webert suggested. They are either going to succumb to development pressure or broken into smaller pieces as they are divided among heirs and passed to new generations.

Those smaller pieces, he said -- if they are to remain farms -- will head toward fruits and vegetables, away from corn and soybeans.

"I believe that in Fauquier and in the areas around our city centers in the commonwealth, those types of niche farming are going to provide a viable source of revenue," Webert said.

Let's hope he's right.

And let's hope, as Webert suggested at the conclusion of the conversation, that agricultural awareness is one of the attributes of the new economic development director that the county will soon hire.

We need more jobs, we need to expand the business tax base. But we also need to not only preserve farming in Fauquier County as it already exists, we also need to nurture its evolution back to a model that so many had written off as history not so very long ago.

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