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Hog Farming on Inactive Mountaintop Removal Sites Could Bring More Jobs to Southern W.Va.

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Kate Wellington
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creativecommons.org

The term “pork barrel” often refers to a government appropriation for local projects secured primarily to bring money to a representative's district. But in the House Tuesday, Delegates heard of a different kind of pork project. The discussion during the House Committee on Agriculture was centered on using old mountaintop removal sites for hog farming.

The House Agriculture Committee heard a presentation by Agriculture Commissioner, Walt Helmick, which was perfect timing since it was Agriculture Day at the Legislature. The commissioner’s presentation was full of ideas for the future of agriculture in West Virginia.

Helmick told lawmakers that West Virginia consumes over $7 billion worth of food. He says only $1 billion of that is actually produced in West Virginia. He asked for bi-partisan support from lawmakers saying West Virginia has a $6 billion opportunity in agricultural jobs.

Helmick would like to see hog farming on inactive mountaintop removal sites. He thinks this could bring a significant amount of employment opportunities to southern counties where unemployment is a big problem.

“We’re looking at mountaintop removal and it’s a big hog industry proposal," Helmick said, "Do you look at Boone, Logan, and Mingo County, sure you do, because in that section there is significant unemployment but employment opportunities.”

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Credit Daniel Walker / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
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West Virginia Public Broadcasting
WV Agriculture Commissioner, Walt Helmick.

Helmick says more people will stay in these counties if these jobs are provided there. He also suggested Wyoming and McDowell Counties as other potential places.

“Those five counties as well as many other counties, Webster County, Nicholas County, Greenbrier County; they have mountaintop removal sites that fit a lot of what we want to do," noted Helmick, "And so we know that we can do some positive things there in those areas, but we already have involvement, the coal association, the coal industry’s worked with us.”

Helmick says the old mountaintop removal sites can’t grow crops, but that hog farming could bring in a great deal of profit.

To further his case, Helmick brought in examples of the pork industry in North Carolina.

“When you’re looking at the pork industry, which down in North Carolina, is a $2.5 billion industry," said Helmick, "and that’s huge, about 30,000 direct jobs. $2.5 billion in one product and that’s the pork industry.”

Helmick says West Virginia can do better than North Carolina.

“We’re situated better than North Carolina," explained Helmick, "We’re situated to the growing market of Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, than they are. And so they understand that we do have the rails, the three phase electricity, that we also have water, and we have the remoteness that a lot of industries want. Those areas are remote because you had mining activity. Couldn’t have anybody live within 5 or 6 miles of the place, and so those are very positive things for us.”

The Committee was also given a presentation by the new Director of Natural Resources, Robert Fala. He spoke about the high points seen at the various parks across the state.

Liz McCormick is WVPB's Eastern Panhandle and education reporter/producer. Liz is a native of Charleston, West Virginia and received her B.A. in Communications and New Media from Shepherd University in 2014. You can connect with Liz via email at emccormick@wvpublic.org or on Twitter @LizMcCormickWV