Manassas Journal Messenger | Cabinet shuffle pleases farmers

Robin Clemen saw a lot of potential for Virginia’s farmers when Gov. Mark Warner announced Thursday the creation of a cabinet level position for agriculture and forestry.

Clemen, president of the Prince William and Fairfax Counties Farm Bureau, lives on a dairy farm in Nokesville.

Her husband Burnard and his father Kemp start their days at 4 a.m., caring for their cows and calves.

“We believe perhaps [now] we will have better access and more attention,” Robin Clemen said.

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls supported Clemen’s notion that farming will become a higher priority in Richmond. A busy Department of Commerce and Trade previously handled forestry and agriculture issues, Qualls said.

Newly appointed Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Robert S. Bloxom, a former Republican delegate from Accomack, will answer directly to Warner.

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s the significance — that it’s being moved up to a cabinet level,” Clemen said. “I think it’s something that the farming community has been looking forward to for quite a while.”

Although Robin Clemen feels hopeful about the new appointment, sprawling development causes her concern, she said.

She will look to Bloxom, 67, to protect farms like hers, which Kemp Clemen opened after he returned form World War II.

“What are they going to do if they keep developing,” Robin Clemen said. “We’re going to be getting our food from other countries.”

With this appointment, Virginia abandoned a group of only four other states lacking a cabinet-level agriculture and forestry position. The combination of these two industries contributes $47 billion to the state economy each year, and represents 15 percent of Virginia’s jobs, according to a recent news release from Warner’s office.

While the move may have more impact in other parts of the state, Manassas Sen. Charles J. Colgan,

D-29th District, applauded the announcement.

“I think it’s something that’s a long time coming,” Colgan said. “It’s not going to cost a whole lot of money. I think the farmers of Virginia want it.”

This appointment fulfilled a Warner campaign promise. Warner called Bloxom a “perfect fit for this position,” according to the news release.

During his tenure in the Virginia House of Delegates, Bloxom served on the Agriculture, Labor and Commerce Committee and the Chesapeake and its Tributaries Committee. The University of Richmond graduate also served a term as chairman of the multi-state Chesapeake Bay Commission.

Without knowing all the new position’s details, Western Prince William Delegate Robert G. Marshall, R-13th District, said he supports the measure if it contains no new government costs.

“I hope we don’t duplicate things that are done by [the Department of Environmental Quality],” Marshall said. “I have always been supportive of the farm bureau, but I hadn’t thought about adding another government function.”

This agency will not require many staff members, Colgan said.

And Bloxom believes strengthening farming and forestry will boost struggling rural Virginia economies, he said in a news release.

Maybe Bloxom could even help facilitate the sale of Virginia farm products in the world market, Clemen said.

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