Electric co-ops in Virginia made their presence known Jan. 9 at the annual Virginia Agribusiness Council Legislative Appreciation Banquet.

Gary Wood, president and CEO of Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, speaks with Del. Kathy Byron. (Laura Emery photo)

More than 100 electric co-op leaders packed 21 tables as the single largest segment among nearly 1,000 attendees, including representatives from government and the private sector who highlighted the importance of agribusiness to the Virginia economy.

Gov. Ralph Northam was present, as were Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn. Numerous state senators, delegates and state agency representatives including Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring also attended the 49th annual event, held at the Old Dominion Building on the Richmond Raceway Complex.

“We want to continue together to do all that we can to support farmers,” the governor said. He noted the attendance from 4-H members and FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America), saying, “These are the people that are our future so encourage them and encourage other youngsters that agriculture and forestry are great career paths.”

Ring noted agriculture and forestry are Virginia’s first and third largest industries.

“We sell our products globally because our products are the very best,” said Filler-Corn, who noted that the unity of the agriculture community is important in helping to overcome uncertain economic times. The industry is “actually a fundamental building block of our society,” she added.

Lea Scott, chair of the council’s board of directors and vice president for agronomy services at Universal Tobacco Leaf Co., said agribusiness leaders plan to work with lawmakers on issues such as budget support for agriculture, technical assistance to soil and water conservation districts and development of international markets for Virginia products.

“Our council continues to work in a bipartisan way to speak with a unified voice for Virginia agribusiness,” he said. “Virginia’s most technologically advanced, most innovative businesses are agribusinesses.”

Co-op leaders said they appreciated the opportunity to mingle with the governor and lawmakers in a laid-back setting prior to the General Assembly session. Several co-ops, including the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Electric Cooperatives, were among sponsors.