Cattle groups request input from farmers on Va. labs
RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Cattlemen’s Association and the Virginia Farm Bureau are working together to make sure the state’s livestock producers are aware of the proposal by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to revamp its Regional Animal Health Laboratory System.
Wayne Campbell, VCA president, is calling on the members of the producer group he heads to become part of the discussion of a proposal that has come from a review of the system. The proposal would cut the number of labs in half.
Recommendations from the review call for two labs, one in Harrisonburg and one in Blacksburg at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
“We all understand operating costs and need to find ways to be more efficient,” Campbell wrote in his October message in the Virginia Cattlemen. “But will this proposal cost the producers in the long run? There should be think tanks in each county to weigh the pros and cons. My hope is our producers will meet with our key state and agricultural leaders and develop a road map that will be beneficial to all. And we need to start today!”
His plea appears to have been heard. Producers in Central and Southwest Virginia are invited to Virginia Animal Health Laboratory System Listening Sessions in November. VCA and VFBF are hosting the events.
The first Listening Meeting is 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Liberty Mountain Conference Center in Lynchburg. The second is 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Wytheville Meeting Center in Wytheville. Producers planning to attend may RSVP to www.surveymonkey.com/r/lab_session.
Campbell explained that Virginia’s lab system consists of four full-service diagnostic labs located in Harrisonburg, Wytheville, Warrenton and Lynchburg.
“These provide service to the poultry, dairy, beef, swine and sheep industries as well as wildlife agencies, zoos, companion animal owners and equine owners,” he wrote. “The labs also play a role in public health by monitoring infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to human and by conducting food safety testing.”
VDACS representatives will discuss the current and future efforts to improve the Regional Animal Health Laboratory System and to receive input on how to best serve producers going forward.
“We look forward to working with VDACS, Virginia Farm Bureau and other industry groups to ensure we have the most effective service and system for Virginia producers and animal health experts,” Brandon Reeves VCA executive director said.
Reeves supplied information explaining how the VDACS proposal has been developed, aiming to strengthen the state’s Animal Health Laboratory System, through a multi-year, producer-focused approach to improvement to achieve top-tier, best-in-class status for the system.
The material from VDACS identifies animal agriculture as the largest component of Virginia’s agriculture sector and the single most economically important industry in Virginia.
It lists supporting livestock and poultry health through the operation of the lab system as top priority for the agency.
“A best-in-class lab system is essential to optimally support Virginia’s thriving animal agriculture industry,” the agency literature states.
Since 2021, a group of stake holders has been called upon to consider Virginia Dairyman’s Association, the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
The request for an independent review, to include recommendations for improvement resulted.
VDACS engaged two nationally known animal health laboratory experts to conduct the review and make recommendations. Both Dr. David Zeman and Dr. Bruce Akey have long list of qualifications for such work.
“Proper staffing is key,” the pair said. They pointed out problems with and for personnel and ways to address them.
“Virginia is among the last states to have multiple small labs scattered throughout the state,” they observed. “Nearly all states have transitioned to one or two strategically located laboratories. “
They suggested the best labs coordinated their efforts with land grant universities and veterinary schools.
The reviewers developed the following 15 recommendations for consideration:
• Develop a multi-year transition plan to move from the current structure to one comprised of two, state-of-the-art, facilities at Harrisonburg and Blacksburg in collaboration with the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (ViTALS Lab);
• Seek full AAVLD accreditation as quickly as possible;
• Improve staff recruitment and retention;
• Optimally functioning laboratories need adequate administrative support staff to perform the duties that will allow analysts to remain at their primary analytical testing tasks;
• Develop a training program for new employees with proper steps performed and documented before any new analyst is released to perform tests for clients without supervision;
• Establish Subject Matter Experts;
• Implement reasonable levels of cross-discipline training, utilization, and rotation;
• Establish an External Advisory Committee;
• Change workflows to improve testing turnaround times;
• Develop and implement an annual, formal fee review process;
• Consolidate testing to take advantage of sample processing and testing;
• Upgrade the existing Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS);
• Increase support and resources for Quality Management and streamline the system;
• Explore additional outreach and communication efforts;
• Improve the laboratory safety program.
The proposed Framework for Advancement calls for first implementing changes in the present system and creating an ongoing External Advisory Committee.
Next would be expansion of the Harrisonburg facility. Capital funding is in the 2022 budget. The suggestion is to break ground in 2024 and complete the project in 2027-28.
Exploration of closer or more formalized collaborations with the vet college is called for. It is noted this facility is now doing fund raising for capital expansion.
“Evaluate the structures of the VDACS lab system and where various tests and services can be most efficiently conducted, while maintaining accessibility and convenience for lab users.
Interestingly, no mention is made of the distance farmers must travel for services. The state spans 374.1 miles from Big Stone Gap to Virginia Beach and more to the Eastern Shore.