Former Delegate Joshua Higginbotham launches bid to be West Virginia’s next Commissioner of Agriculture

By Matthew Young, RealWV

“When you’re first elected to office, you think you can move mountains day-one. You have that confidence, you have that energy – especially if you’re young. But the longer you spend there, the more you realize how much work needs to be done.”

That’s what Kanawha County resident and former State Delegate Joshua Higginbotham told RealWV last week while discussing his bid to become the state’s next Commissioner of Agriculture. Higginbotham filed his candidacy for the Republican primary at 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 27 – exactly one minute prior to the filing deadline. 

“The Commissioner of Agriculture needs to have that farming experience, but you also need to have a good understanding of rural economic development,” Higginbotham added.

Just 20-years-old at the time of his initial election in 2016, Higginbotham became the youngest member of the House of Delegates. Higginbotham served for five years as a member of the House, several of which were spent as chairman of the House Economic Development Committee and vice-chair of the House Education Committee, before stepping away in 2021 after moving out of his district. 

Now 27, Higginbotham is involved with his family’s 900-acre cattle farm in the Kanawha Valley. In addition to their more than 120 longhorn cows, the historic “Woodlawn Estate” grows soy, wheat, corn, and hay, and is a promoter of agrotourism. Higginbotham is also a certified firearms instructor with the United State Concealed Carry Association (USCCA). 

“The reason why we have so few people in my generation going into agriculture, it’s not just because you don’t make a ton of money being a farmer,” Higginbotham said. “The reason why so many people don’t want to go into it is because nobody wants to live in a rural community.”

“What you need to incentivize young people to go into farming and to live in a rural community is good broadband internet, roads that work, water and sewer lines, and effective schools where they want to put their own kids,” Higginbotham continued. “If they don’t want to live in a rural community, they’re not going to want to become farmers. You can’t farm in downtown Charleston, we all know that.”

According to Higginbotham, organizational-communication between government entities is key. If elected, Higginbotham said he plans to work more effectively with the federal government to ensure grant funds are “put in the right places.”

“The left hand doesn’t talk to the right hand,” Higginbotham said. “The state and county and local governments, there’s hardly any communication, and they don’t work together as well as they should.”

“I view the agricultural commissioner’s job as being the person who can intertwine all of these groups together, and put everybody in the same room at the same table at the same time,” Higginbotham added. 

Initially, Higginbotham explained, he had no plans of running for office during the 2024 election cycle. However, after reading a Fox News article, Higginbotham said he felt compelled to take action. 

“The article talked about Communist China and companies affiliated with the Communist Party coming to this country and buying hundreds-of-thousands of acres of American farmland,” Higginbotham said, noting that the federal government was “doing very little to stop it.”

“They’re buying land near government properties, near military bases,” Higginbotham added. “Essentially what they were doing was just sitting on the properties. They weren’t developing it, they weren’t using it for agriculture, and it was wasted land. It’s bad for economic development, it’s bad for farmers, and it’s bad for our national security.”

“And at the state level, we’re really not doing anything about it either,” Higginbotham added.

In 2023, the State Legislature passed a bill which prevents the People’s Republic of China, as well as other Communist organizations, from purchasing farmland in West Virginia. However, Higginbotham says that bill doesn’t do enough to protect the state from Communist interference.

“That bill didn’t include things like land preserves, or certain forestry-related things,” Higginbotham said. “It doesn’t just have to be agricultural land. And the other aspect that people forget about is Chinese companies who have invested in American companies. It may not be a Chinese national company, or based out of China, but they have firms who have invested billions of dollars into this country – into American companies. Then those companies are coming in and buying land.”

“We know that there are foreign entities who want to buy American farmland to price American farmers out of the market,” Higginbotham added. “That’s what their goal is.”

As commissioner of agriculture, Higginbotham says he could use his office to monitor foreign investments, and to work closely with the Farm Bureau and county Chambers of Commerce.

“We would be able to work with all of our local partners, and the municipal and county governments to determine what would work best in each given circumstance,” Higginbotham noted. “What we don’t want to do is overreact and make it so no foreign company would want to invest here, that’s not what we’re trying to do.”

“We want as many companies to come and invest here as possible,” Higginbotham added. “But we want to make sure that the motivations are right. Are they buying property just to sit on it and make the prices go up, or are they actually going to develop it.”

With the current and future influx of grant funding coming into West Virginia, Higginbotham believes that organizational-communication is more important now than ever before. 

“As chair of the (House) Economic Development Committee, I spearheaded the Opportunity Zone program,” Higgenbotham said. “We saw tens-of-millions of dollars of investment come to rural communities because of the bill that I helped to pass.”

“You have to have a strong agriculture commissioner to actually implement some of those things,” Higginbotham added, “To work with these businesses, and work with local governments to get those grant dollars into West Virginia.”

For more information about Joshua Higginbotham’s campaign for agricultural commissioner, visit his Facebook page.  Primary Election Day in West Virginia is Tuesday, May 14. General Election Day is Tuesday, November 5.

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