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    Economic Development looking to capitalize on booming rural economy

    photoA worker at Hillsborough Vineyards in Purcellville prunes the vines July 27. Times-Mirror File Photo/Jonathan Taylor

    Loudoun County’s Rural Business Division presented a new strategy for the rural economy Dec. 7 to the county’s Economic Development Commission.

    In order to develop the new strategy, the Rural Economic Development Council identified 15 sectors and leaders, invited landowners and 300 other individuals to participate in meetings.

    Each sector was responsible for submitting a written report and oral presentation to present their findings.

    The new strategy identified the top ten agricultural industry sectors in Loudoun County including beef cattle, equine, sheep, goats, sod, hay, Christmas trees, nursery products, and fruits and vegetables.

    Agriculture is the state’s largest industry by far, with an economic impact of $55 billion annually.

    With 95 counties in the state, Loudoun County is first in several categories including number one in number of horses, number of wineries and in acres of sod harvested. The county also produces the second most grapes in the state, is fourth and fifth in Christmas tree sales and in hay and other crops respectively.

    Mary Ellen Taylor, a member of the Economic Development Council, outlined the purpose of the new strategy.

    “This strategic plan is intended to provide a voice for rural business to aid growth and prosperity,” Taylor said. “With the shifting economic and fiscal fortunes at all levels of the public and private sectors, this plan defers from the 200,000 acre solution in that it recognizes the government alone cannot be the catalyst for positive rural economic growth.”

    Taylor pointed out several key findings from the strategic planning and specifically emphasized land-use tax benefits that are accrued to rural land owners, which all sectors agree are critical to the continued success of rural economy.

    The council made some preliminary recommendations to the EDC, which include both foundation and program recommendations.

    One recommendation is to develop a state of the art agricultural and rural business accelerator which will focus on leading edge business development in food, wine, bio-technology, manufacturing and related fields.

    Of their findings, Taylor expressed a need for $180,000 in budget implications for 2013 to conduct the properly sourced pre-development studies.  Rural business officials noted that the website redevelopment is already underway.

    “We recommend a state of the art facility. A gateway for rural and agricultural business to receive support and technical facility access to augment financial services within the role of economic business cultures,” Taylor said. “This would be a catalyst for business formation or for assisting an existing business with job creation, technology development and educational activities.”

    Other foundation strategies Rural Business thinks will be beneficial include creating a peer-to-peer consulting and research network; developing an integrated approach to equine industry enhancement; and to conducting regular rural business owner surveys.

    Programs they hope to develop include a redesign and enhancement of the loudounfarms.org website; developing a multi-use trail system; creating marketing programs to integrate the west and east; creating a branding rural business awareness program; and developing a consolidated year round farmer’s market.

    “The vision of this has been challenging because we are creating an economy,” said Doug Fabbioli, co-chair of the Rural Economic Development Council. “The land has been there and we have been developing it with houses and schools and businesses ever since, but we have realized the value of what that land is.”

    Martin Hamberger, co-chair of the Rural Economic Development Council, noted that the overall goal is to make Loudoun great place to live.

    “Loudoun County needs to be a world class place to live, work and play and that is what we took as the element of vision for our Rural Economic Business Development Strategy,” Hamberger said. “The county found out in its last survey the two elements most important as stated by its citizens are transportation and right next to it is Rural Loudoun.”

    Comments

    Sod farming should not be encouraged in Loudoun County.  Regardless of how careful the grower may be, this practice eventually results in permanent, irreparable harm to the cropland such that, ultimately, it is impossible to grow any crop whatsoever on that land, which is thereafter suitable only for development.  This is made clear in a May 2010 article in the Soil Science Society of America Journal, May 2010, at https://www.soils.org/publications/sssaj/articles/74/3/892 .  Setting the lengthy scientific discussion aside, these authors, who are associated with the Department of Natural Resource Science, University of Rhode Island concluded:

    “Regardless of geographic location or soil morphology,…soil removal is an intrinsic part of conventional sod harvesting, such that substantial soil losses will always be associated with these operations….

    “…Conventional sod farming clearly results in considerable net permanent depletion of agriculturally productive soil, a nonrenewable resource, relative to other agricultural and nonagricultural land uses….Clearly those areas to which the sod—and associated soil—is transported and planted accrue a number of benefits,… Such benefits, however, come at the expense of a permanent loss of agriculturally productive soil from sod farms.

    Some land owners insist that their soil isn’t being damaged.  Based on this information, they clearly are mistaken, perhaps having been sold a bill of goods by corporations who are more interested in their own bottom line than the long-term interest of the farmer and his or her land.

    Is this where Loudoun County wants to go?  Destroying its cropland forever for a few dollars today in the pockets of corporations?  If so, this is terribly shortsighted thinking.

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