The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors decided this week to study the creation of the post of agricultural development officer to promote Loudoun's number one industry.
Although the idea of such a position has been under consideration for several years, a conference last month on the future of farming in the county brought it to the forefront.
The issue will be studied by the policy committee and brought before the board for final action by September. If a position were created to promote and support agriculture, it could cost the county only half the estimated $47,494. According to Supervisor James Brownell, who with Chairman Frank Raflo coordinated the farm conference, farmers who attended that day-long meeting said they would be willing to pick up the other half of the tab.
Farming is a $5 million-a-year business in the county. According to Brownell, a farmer himself, an agricultural officer would be a spokesman for farmers, especially in the eastern end of the county, which is undergoing rapid commercial development. A county survey in 1981 indicated that significantly more residents in the western end of the county believed the loss of farm land to developers is a problem than do eastern-end residents.
Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed in the western districts said they believe there is a problem, with the same percentage saying that the county should enact programs to curb such development. Seventy-two percent of the eastern-end residents surveyed said they perceived a problem, the survey showed, with 69 percent indicating the county should do something about it.
An agricultural director would not only inform western-end residents of farming's economic importance to the county, Agricultural Advisory Committee Chairman John Adams told the board, but also he or she would search out ways to expand in new areas of agriculture and promote new marketing opportunities. Encroachment by housing developers and industry, competition in the marketplace and increased land values in Loudoun are the chief reasons farming is in a vulnerable position, Adams said.
Supervisor Steve Stockman, who is, he says, the son and grandson of farmers, objected to the concept of an agricultural director although he voted to send it to committee "just to see what else they'll come up with," he said later. Stockman opposed the creation of the position, he said, because "farmers are an independent bunch and they are very smart. I can't imagine them asking for this kind of help and I don't think the county should do it."
Brownell, smiling, asked his colleague to "keep his Stockman idealism out of the discussion" and vote on the issue. "Preserving the county is the issue here," he said. "If we want to preserve a way of life, we have to take a hand in it."
More than 500 questionnaires were mailed before the June 18 farm conference; nearly 100 were returned. According to Raflo's report, 90 percent of the farmers responding to that survey said they don't think nonfarmers in Loudoun understand their "real condition." When asked if they (or their families) will be in farming five years from now, nearly half said they weren't sure, with 10 percent saying no. To the question, "How have you met your cash flow needs," the overwhelming answer was "selling cattle," and the second answer was "by selling land." Figures for the last two questions were not available, Raflo said.
"When Xerox decided to settle in Loudoun," Raflo said, "their representatives told us that one of the selling factors was the rural look of the county. We need to keep what we have and sell the idea of farming to everyone."
In other business, the board unanimously approved a measure that will allow county employes greater leeway in political activities, including running for office themselves. Under the old policy, adopted in 1983, such activities were limited.
According to Supervisor Andrew Bird, who heads the committee that recommended the change, "County employes are first and foremost American citizens and they should be allowed full expression of that citizenship. If that includes running for office, our only stipulation should be that it doesn't interfere with their jobs."