WHITETHORNE, Va. (AP) — The cows haven't moved into the new Kentland Farm dairy science production facility yet, but plenty of people showed up on July 17 to see the new home of Virginia Tech's milking herd.
State cattle farmers and the commonwealth's agriculture secretary celebrated the opening of the university's $14 million dairy facility with speeches, tours of the as yet pristine milking parlor and freestall barn, as well as with eating free ice cream and smoked beef brisket.
In welcoming the assembly, Tech Dairy Science Department Chairman Mike Akers invoked the university's 143 years of dairy education and research — from the dairy classes all agriculture students were required to take beginning in the 1870s at Virginia Agricultural & Mechanical College to the milk the university sent to Jamestown in 1907 for the 300th anniversary of European settlement.
"Today represents another milestone in our rich and storied history that ensures our department will be a vital part, not only of Virginia Tech, but of the commonwealth and its dairy industry for years to come," Akers said.
The event was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Virginia State Dairymen's Association and the Virginia Cattlemen's Association, as well as with the state's dairy exposition. Tech's dairy department and Virginia Cooperative Extension service work closely with the commonwealth's beef and dairy industries.
Akers told the gathering that the research done at Kentland and at three new research and teaching facilities set to be constructed on campus beginning next year will lead to improvements in dairy cow genetics, feed selection, health care and management techniques.
All of this will help "increase yields and boost health," Akers said.
Tech President Timothy Sands called the opening a proud day for the university.
"We're investing in this facility and facilities like the recently completed Human and Agriculture Biosciences Building because this work is a vital part of Virginia Tech's mission and our vision for the future," Sands said. "Agriculture is at the forefront of some of the greatest challenges and opportunities: Feeding a growing population, protecting and advancing Virginia's strong agricultural economy and ensuring food safety and security."
Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore told the assembly the event bodes well for the overall state economy.
"A project like this is very, very important to everything we're trying to do in the governor's office . promoting economic development in agriculture and forestry products all around the world," Haymore said. "The research that's conducted here at Kentland Farm, Virginia Tech and at our other land grant is incredibly important and helps you produce the highest quality, highest yielding overall best products at the most efficient manner you can."
Agriculture is the largest private sector industry in the state, producing $52 billion in economic activity and employing about 300,000 people statewide, Haymore said. Of that impact, dairy accounts for about $400 million in state revenues, and beef for about $500,000.
"What's going to go on here (at Kentland) is going to help us ... create this new Virginia economy that's less reliant on federal dollars and more reliant on good old-fashioned jobs and economic development from the private sector, and particularly agriculture right here at home in Virginia," Haymore said.
Recent state budget woes have been partly blamed on federal sequestration, which affects military and other federal spending in the state.
Akers said that Tech's 500-head dairy herd could be moved in to Kentland as soon as Aug. 3. The herd produces about 1,800 gallons of milk per day, which is sold under contract to the Virginia prison system. After processing, Tech's dining services buys back some of that milk to serve to students on campus.
The animals and facilities are being relocated to make way for a slate of major construction projects that will transform what has been dairy department land at Southgate Drive since at least the 1950s to a new entrance to the university.
The projects include a $47 million Virginia Department of Transportation effort to relocate and redesign the Southgate Drive interchange with U.S. 460 and a $15 million expansion of the Virginia Tech Montgomery Executive Airport that will also move Tech Center Drive. A third project, the $175 million, 95-acre phase two of Tech's Corporate Research Center is expected to accommodate 100 companies and employ up to 2,500 people over the next 20 years.