Agriculture is a job generator in Virginia and an integral part of the state’s economy, providing food, fuel and fiber to the state, nation and world.
A 2017 study by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia reports agriculture-related industries generated $70 billion in total output in 2015, accounting for more than 334,000 jobs and $36.2 billion in value added to the state’s economy – about 7.5 percent of Virginia gross domestic product.
Poultry leads in economic impact among farm sectors. “The study reaffirms how much chickens, turkeys and eggs mean to Virginia’s economy,” says Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation. Poultry farming and processing in 2015 generated a total economic output of $6.8 billion and $2.3 billion in value-added output.
Consumer demand for poultry continues to grow. “The sheer global appetite for poultry products is just going through the roof,” says Terry Rephann, the study author. “A farmer who maintains several poultry houses, under contract with large poultry companies, can generate pretty good income.”
Poultry farms of all sizes are growing in Virginia. Pittsylvania County’s Robert Mills is an example. He added poultry houses to his cattle and tobacco farm, now raising 34,000 birds annually as a pullet breeder for Perdue Farms.
“We’re seeing poultry demand growth for smaller, niche markets like organically grown and heritage poultry breeds,” Rephann says. He cites poultry industry grant recipients from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund (AFID): an organic-certified custom poultry processor that created more than 400 jobs in Harrisonburg, and a niche-market turkey processor in Albemarle County. A large turkey grower and processor, the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative, also received an AFID grant.
Cattle Farmers Add Value, Steward Grasslands
Beef cattle are second in total economic output and are the largest agricultural employer in Virginia at more than 37,000 jobs. “The outlook for cattle production here remains steady, and we are pleased to see the recent report underscoring the multi-billion dollar contributions of sales, land use and employment our sector creates,” says Jason Carter, executive director of the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association.
Carter says cattle farmers are important stewards of Virginia’s perennial pastures, too. “Fescue is our most abundant crop and beef cattle utilize this each day making land productive, adding value to our economy and assisting in maintaining agriculture as Virginia’s most important industry,” he says.
Dairy farming adds grassland productivity as well. The dairy industry directly supported more than 16,000 jobs, creating $4.3 billion in total economic output and $2.2 billion in value-added impact.
Adding Value At Home, Globally
Exports have been vital to Virginia agriculture since the 1600s, when tobacco planters sent leaf to Europe. The study reported exports contributed $6.1 billion in total output, more than 30,000 jobs and $3.2 billion in value-added impact.