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Veterans in W. Va. agriculture bill clears panel

State veterans who want to explore the agriculture industry could get some help from a bill passed out of the Senate Committee on Finance Wednesday.

The Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Act would allow former military personnel to use reclaimed coal mine land for farm production that could include everything from birds to bees, and could boost cottage industries and niche crops. The bill would also help veterans promote their products through farmer’s markets and cooperatives.

Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick said the program is good for veterans and good for the state. Helmick hired veteran Jim McCormick who is working with Secretary of Veterans Assistance Rick Thompson and Billy Wayne Bailey, Deputy Cabinet Secretary, on the program.

“The goal is to involve as many veterans as possible,” Helmick said. “It’s an innovative program.”

Helmick said he plans to make land owned by the Dept. of Agriculture available, beginning with 50-to-100 acres at Lakin in Mason County. Other land among the 10,000 acres the dept. owns is available for the program, too, he said.

Reclaimed coal mines account for 105,000 acres in the state, Helmick said, and coal operators have been on board with the concept of converting the land to agriculture “every step of the way.”

Not only will the program train veterans in new skills, the commissioner said farming has a therapeutic aspect that adds a layer of benefit to the program, as well.

“Agriculture is one of those occupations that will help veterans get back into society,” he said.

The bill will head to the Senate floor today.

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