Through research and Extension efforts, Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has helped elevate the state’s agricultural exports to record numbers in the past two years.
At the recent Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that the commonwealth hit another milestone in agricultural exports that reached $2.85 billion in 2013. He challenged attendees to push that number to the $3 billion mark over the next 12 months.
The all-time high numbers, an 8 percent increase from last year’s $2.61 billion, were announced at the conference on March 7 in Richmond, Va. The event was co-hosted by the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the Virginia Department of Agricultural and Consumer Services, Virginia Farm Bureau, and the Virginia Port Authority.
“We’re very pleased to have partnered with Governor McAuliffe to co-host this conference on agricultural trade,” said Alan Grant, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “As a land-grant university, Virginia Tech is committed to the research and education that will continue to help drive the economic engine of the largest industry in the commonwealth.”
Indeed, exports account for 30 percent of all farm income, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Japanese Ambassador to the United States Kenichiro Sasae spoke at the event and in remarks to attendees addressed Japan’s dependence and support for imported agricultural products from Virginia and the U.S.
Soybeans, Virginia’s number one export crop in 2013, were a particular favorite with the ambassador and he spoke about how staples of the Japanese diet such as tofu and natto — a traditional Japanese breakfast food made from the fermented beans — are connected to the commonwealth. He highlighted Virginia Tech’s help in making the crop a viable export to overseas markets.
“Japanese food culture is sustained by the stable supply of agricultural products from the United States,” said the ambassador. “Montague Farm in Center Cross, Va., has been producing high-quality soybeans for the Japanese market since 1987. In conjunction with Virginia Tech, they make a large annual investment in developing special high-quality soybean varieties to make natto. This is one example of how Virginia’s farmers have helped support Japan’s traditional cuisine.”
Among other top Virginia exports were wheat, corn, pork, and tobacco. Virginia wine exports broke not only financial barriers but also committed a bit of a cultural coup by breaking into the top two global wine markets of London and Beijing.
“The agricultural research provided by Virginia Tech – in Blacksburg at the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and across the state at the university’s eleven Agricultural Research and Extension Centers – is invaluable to the prosperity of Virginia’s diverse agricultural economy, especially our growing export sector,” said Todd Haymore, Virginia’s agriculture secretary.
“Virginia Tech’s Agricultural Research Experiment Station and the Agricultural Research and Extension Centers have been, and will continue to be, key team members in Virginia’s overall efforts to help meet international demands, which will provide our grower base with more opportunities to expand production and generate increased revenue for their farming operations,” he said.
Other attendees at the conference included students from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Katie Baugh of Franklin, Tenn., a freshman majoring in animal and poultry sciences, is working with another student to develop an agriculture-focused geocaching initiative to promote agritourism in the state through the Kohl Centre.
Baugh says she hopes to be a large animal veterinarian one day. She attended the conference to further understand challenges facing producers, and thinks that having the cultural knowledge to speak to farmers will help her to better serve them as a veterinarian.
“I wanted to broaden my agricultural knowledge to be more fluent with agricultural producers,” said Baugh.
Judging from the strong numbers of Virginia’s exports, Baugh wasn’t the only one in the room seeking more fluency with the state’s agricultural producers. Another thing those record numbers indicate is that students like Price and Baugh should have a promising future in Virginia’s agriculture industry no matter what their role.
The conference began six years ago when Ambassador Richard Crowder, the C.G. Thornhill Professor of Agricultural Trade in the college, reached out to Virginia's agriculture community to initiate a conference on global trade and policy.