RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) announced an agreement with John Deere & Company earlier this month to help enhance the department’s agribusiness operations.
VADOC entered into a five-year lease with John Deere to acquire farm equipment that would improve the department’s cost-saving farming operations and enhance farming programs for inmates. VADOC is leasing 14 tractors, one grain combine, one 12-row planter and one self-propelled forage harvester from John Deere. The equipment replaces worn or outdated machinery and implements.
VADOC grows and produces much of the food, including fruits, vegetables and milk, used to feed incarcerated offenders. The department farms 1,800 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, sorghum and other grains grain at several correctional facilities throughout the state. The farming equipment will be used by the Buckingham, Deerfield, Greensville, James River and Pamunkey agribusiness operations.
“The offenders that work with this equipment will gain skills and knowledge that have become the industry standard in farming today,” said VADOC Director Harold Clarke in a statement. “This experience will prepare them for success if they seek a job in agriculture after release.”
The new equipment includes the latest in global positioning system (GPS) guidance technology. GPS technology saves fuel and maintenance costs, as well as a lot of time.
“We are using bigger equipment and using it very efficiently. One big change we have noticed is in our planting time. It has been cut nearly in half,” said Agribusiness Manager John Raiford in a statement.
While VADOC does supplement its own production with food purchases from outside the system, its agribusiness operations supply about half of the inmates’ food needs. The department also sells some of its crops to generate revenue. For instance, the agribusiness program makes a practice of selling off some of the higher-value crops, using the profits to purchase a greater volume of lower-cost foodstuffs for the food-service program.
“As the population grows, production of food over the coming decades is of increasing concern,” Raiford said in a statement. “Farmers will need to produce more per acre than ever, and qualified equipment operators will be part of the equation.”