Electric cooperatives had strong participation on Jan. 13 at the Virginia Agribusiness Council’s Legislative Appreciation Banquet, a major event timed to coincide with the start of the General Assembly session.
Cooperative officials and staffers occupied several tables at the 50th annual banquet, held at Richmond’s Main Street Station and returning to a live event after a year’s delay because of the pandemic. Nine co-ops were platinum, silver or bronze sponsors, including the following, which each had multiple representatives at the event:
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative
Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative
Old Dominion Electric Cooperative
Prince George Electric Cooperative
The VMD Association of Electric Cooperatives
Northern Neck Electric Cooperative
Southside Electric Cooperative
Community Electric Cooperative
From BARC Electric Cooperative, Chris Botulinski, interim CEO and COO, and board director Albert J. “Jay” Lewis II, were in attendance. Community Electric Cooperative President and CEO Steve Harmon headed a group that represented its co-op’s interests, with PGEC President and CEO Casey Logan and board members advocating for their co-op.
Additionally, Andrew Vehorn of the VMD staff serves on the council’s board of directors.
The banquet always attracts state officials, members of the General Assembly, and representatives of the agriculture, farming and cooperative communities because of the importance of agribusiness. The sector includes 450,000 jobs and is worth $92 billion to the state economy, noted Marlene Pierson-Jolliffe, chair of the council board.
Among those in attendance were Matt Lohr, Secretary of Agriculture-designate in the incoming Gov. Glenn Youngkin administration, and Andrew Wheeler, Secretary of Natural Resources-designate.
Incoming Attorney General Jason Miyares, a former delegate and prosecutor, outlined the historic importance of agriculture in Virginia and emphasized the role of free markets in fostering innovation and ingenuity.
“For agribusiness, those in farming, you are the backbone of his economy,” he said, adding that he hopes more civil discourse enters into the political system. “The person who thinks differently than you is not your enemy, so let’s stop acting like it.”
State Sen. Chap Petersen of Fairfax received the 2021 Distinguished Friend of Agribusiness Award a year late, while the late State Sen. Ben Chafin of Lebanon received the 2022 award. “His passion for the industry lives on and serves as a shining example of just how important it is to have good people in public service,” said Kyle Shreve, executive director of the agribusiness council.
The evening included a reception with samples of Virginia’s Finest products from peanuts to oysters to sweets to wine, and a buffet-style dinner featuring Virginia products.