The West Virginia Department of Agriculture promotes the state’s agricultural industry and works to ensure the safety of agricultural products sold in the state. The commissioner of agriculture, one of the executive branch constitutional officers, directs the department.
In 1891, the legislature set up the four-member State Board of Agriculture to plan agricultural programs and publish information. In 1911, the legislature passed a bill to create the Department of Agriculture and the office of commissioner of agriculture. A year later, the Board of Agriculture disbanded. Elected in 1912, the first commissioner was directed to promote agriculture as an industry and encourage the organization of agricultural and horticultural groups.
In 1913, the legislature assigned to the commissioner the responsibility to regulate farm products. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Department of Agriculture, guided by new state laws, acted to assist farmers in marketing. One early project was the state apple packing plant in Inwood, Berkeley County, established in 1920. The Department of Agriculture also helped farmers set standards for their products, especially vegetables, small fruits, poultry, eggs, lambs, and wool. Consumer protection later became one of the department’s primary responsibilities, after the legislature assigned it the authority to enforce the state’s pure food laws.
The Department of Agriculture has many responsibilities: 1) to prevent, control, and eradicate animal and poultry diseases; 2) to inspect commercial slaughterhouses; 3) to regulate pesticides; 4) to detect and control plant diseases; 5) to distribute agricultural information, including the monthly Market Bulletin, circulation 60,000; 6) to enforce laws to protect the public food supply; and 7) to support rural development initiatives. The state Department of Agriculture works cooperatively with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on some matters, particularly meat and poultry inspections and detection and control of plant diseases.
The department employs more than 200 people. Besides the commissioner’s state capitol office, the department maintains facilities at the Guthrie Agricultural Center in Sissonville in Kanawha County; a water quality laboratory in Moorefield, Hardy County; offices in Inwood; and field offices and farmers’ markets throughout the state.
Gus R. Douglass, a Mason County native, served 11 terms as commissioner of agriculture. Douglass chose not to run for reelection in 2012. State Senator Walt Helmick, a Democrat from Pocahontas County, was elected commissioner on November 6, 2012.
This Article was written by Nancy Ray Adams
Last Revised on November 07, 2012
Ambler, Charles H. & Festus P. Summers. West Virginia: The Mountain State. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1958.
Barns, William D. The West Virginia State Grange, The First Century, 1873-1973. Morgantown Printing & Binding, 1973.
West Virginia Blue Book. Senate Clerk, State of West Virginia. Charleston, 1998.