Frank Ruff Jr.: Let’s talk about the District

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Frank Ruff

Agriculture is still the number one industry in Virginia. Often that fact is overlooked as news usually focuses on big names like Amazon and Microsoft. However, feeding America is still a massive economic driver in our economy. From southeast Virginia, where hog production and processing, to the valley of Virginia, where turkeys and chickens are king, producers are employing many. Likewise, the grain needed provides opportunity for those who grow and transport these items. Our region is still dependent on tobacco while peanuts and cotton are the main crops. Cattle, hay, and greenhouse operations are all around the Commonwealth.


For years, Tyson, and before that Holly Farms, was a mainstay for many counties in the south-central part of the state. Recently, Tyson made the decision to close their processing plant in Henrico County. That decision has sent ripples throughout our area. The Crewe area is the home of their grain supply storage. Chicken houses and grain producers radiate from there to surrounding counties.

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Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matt Lohr is working with growers and county leaders to, hopefully, find a new company that would be interested in coming to the region. I will continue to work with the Secretary and the Governor as we work through the issues involved.


Just a few years ago, this was a relatively unknown term. We were used to hearing about and seeing at least pictures of rows and rows of crops in fields. Then we heard about a few vegetables being grown indoors in water, called hydroponics, however, that was limited. Now the world is seriously changing!

In the Danville/Pittsylvania area is the largest indoor farming operation in America. AeroFarms began shipping less than a year ago. Now they are shipping baby and micro salad greens as far as California. They are using the most advanced systems available to grow, in a very few days, delicious wholesome products. AeroFarms building is designed to grow fourteen levels high. This is equivalent to 1,000 growing acres. They use no soil and only a small fraction of the water that would be needed in the field. The plants are under special lighting and are fed just the right amount of nutrients to flourish.

The research does not stop with what they know today. Working with the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville and researchers from Virginia Tech, AeroFarms will continue to innovate.

When Governor Youngkin toured with Delegate Marshall and myself at ILAR, we were impressed with the technology that is first in the nation in understanding how light and nutrients affect a plant by using multiple high-speed cameras tied into a computer. This technology graphs out what is happening with plants.


In addition to this research of plants at ILAR, the GO TEC program that was developed by Dr. Julie Brown and her team has developed an excellent program for Career Training Education. That program began in our region and is quickly developing into the gold standard for those who want to work with both their hands and mind.

One of the sectors they work with is agriculture. In middle schools all over Southern Virginia, our students are actively involved in the science of growing plants using these innovative tools that the Institute and AeroFarms are using.

All of this is exciting. It is exciting as we learn how we can be more efficient as we work to feed our citizens. It is also exciting to see students who are part of this change.


Last week, I attended the formal renaming of Fort Pickett to Fort Barfoot. It was an impressive ceremony. Most of us will continue to refer to it as Pickett. In Washington, it was considered not politically correct to have a fort named after a Confederate General.

Colonel Barfoot was an excellent choice. He was a true World War II hero. As a private he risked his life in battle which earned him a battlefield officer’s commission. He was an American Indian by birth and trained at Pickett. The ceremony honored his heritage. I was honored to have known him when he lived in Amelia.

FRANK RUFF Jr. serves as the 15th District senator in Virginia. He can be reached at Sen., (434) 374-5129 or P.O. Box 332, Clarksville, VA 23927.