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Earth Team Award-Winner Chase Musser Taking Patient Approach to Career in Agriculture

National Volunteer Week - Shining a Light on USDA Volunteers
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National Volunteer Week 2023 Shining a Light Graphic

Virginia NRCS is always happy to note that multiple members of several families have elected to join the ranks of our employees. College freshman Chase Musser, Earth Team Individual Volunteer of the Year for 2022, may be one of the next to make a career out of helping people help the land.

By John Markon, Virginia NRCS Public Affairs

RICHMOND, Va. -- Farming and conservation are two career paths favored by members of the Musser family of Southwest Virginia.  Nineteen-year-old Chase Musser – selected last fall as Virginia’s individual Earth Team volunteer of the year for 2022 – wants to eventually take a crack at both of them.

Conservation, however, is first in line.

“Actual farming is something I think I’ll want to do,” Musser said, “but maybe later in life. My goal in college is to come out prepared to work in conservation, and I’ll say that my family connections had a lot to do with that.”

Musser’s uncle Hunter Musser Is NRCS’ district conservationist at the USDA’s Marion Service Center, about 15 miles from Chase’s home in the small Wythe County community of Rural Retreat.  Nathan Osborne, an uncle by marriage, fills the same position at the USDA field office in Galax, about 30 miles away to the south.

“I see Hunter a lot and Nathan pretty often,” Chase Musser said. “That’s where it all started – them talking to me about the work they do for NRCS and me being interested in it. Last year was the first when I started going out with Uncle Hunter on farm visits, taking measurements and doing other things to help him. Even though my dad is a Musser who didn't choose farming as a primary career, I did grow up around farming and I want to be involved in it.”

Chase’s paternal grandfather, 78-year-old Ernie Musser, is the family patriarch and was actively working the family’s cow/calf/hay operation outside Rural Retreat until being sidelined by a tractor accident last year. Father Temple Musser is an educator and occasional farmer now serving as principal of Grayson County High School, located in nearby Independence, Va.

“Since Granddad’s accident, Hunter and Nathan have been helping on the family farm,” Chase said. “Nathan also has some land in Grayson County where he grows pumpkins.  You could say they’ve seen farming from just about every point of view.”

Chase Musser is currently a freshman at Virginia Tech, where he’s declared an Ag School major in Crop and Soil Science.  He’s signed up to stay on campus this summer to assist on a project involving boosting harvest numbers for corn and small grains that he says has the potential to add $2 billion to revenue earned by Virginia growers.

This large commitment may put a temporary halt to Chase’s volunteering with NRCS, but Hunter Musser said, “Knowing Chase, he’ll find a way to work some volunteering in somewhere, maybe at our Christiansburg office, which is a lot closer to Tech.  Anyone can see, I think, that Chase has passions for conservation and agriculture.”

He’s also shown an ability to find the time to indulge them.  As a high school senior, Chase Musser had to work his volunteering around his days at Virginia’s Southwest Governor’s School in Pulaski, where he attended classes, and afternoon sports practices at Rural Retreat High School.

“Chase was pretty scientific about how he volunteered, and maybe a little fortunate, too,” his uncle said. “But he was able to participate in every part of NRCS’ nine-step planning process, so there wasn’t much he didn’t get to do. He helped develop conservation plans, identified resource concerns, certified landowner compliance on practices, did 3- to 5-year business plans… and he really seemed to enjoy all of it.”

In 2022, Chase Musser was one of 151 Earth Team volunteers in Virginia who donated 3,965 hours to assist NRCS in its conservation activities. While those numbers are short of pre-COVID levels, they represent the beginnings of a bounce-back from the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021.

Dr. Edwin Martinez Martinez, NRCS' state conservationist for Virginia, places a high value on volunteer contributions for three primary reasons: "The Earth Team program," he said, "benefits the volunteers by providing them with experience and training, it benefits our field offices by providing extra staffing and, most importantly, gives us extra boots on the ground to better serve our landowners."

Hunter Musser likes his nephew’s chances of succeeding as both a conservationist and, eventually, an NRCS partner.

“I could definitely see Chase working in one of our field offices as a soil conservationist,” Musser said, “but I think he’s going to find at Virginia Tech that the scientific side of what we do also has a lot of appeal for him. I also think his plan to build a career before he starts farming is a good one. These days, it’s hard to be a small farmer without a non-farm job on the side. He’ll need some patience.”

Chase Musser would seem to have the “patience” angle covered.

“I think I know what I want to do, but I’m not in a rush,” he said. “In terms of being a farmer, I think I know what generally needs to be done on a farm right now. Once I’ve developed my knowledge a little more, I’ll know all the ‘hows’ and ‘whys,’ too. When I have the fine points down, then I’ll be ready.”

Virginia Earth Team Volunteer, Chase Musser gets a close-up view of some Southwest Virginia livestock.

Earth Team honoree Chase Musser gets a close-up view of some Southwest Virginia livestock. (Musser family photo).

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