The largest industry in Virginia offers a variety of opportunities for producers, processors and consumers. Virginia agriculture employs a total of 500,000 Virginians annually; each job in turn supports 1.5 jobs somewhere else in the state’s economy.
Land preservation is a main priority. Farmland covers 32 percent of the state or 7.9 million acres. This land consists of 46,000 farms with an average size of 171 acres. Roughly 87 percent of the farms are privately owned by individuals or families.
The Office of Farmland Preservation (OFP) administers the Virginia Century Farm Program, which recognizes and honors farms that have been in operation by the same family for at least 100 consecutive years. Currently there are 1,275 registered farms.
Since 2008, OFP has allocated $7.65 million in state matching funds to local governments for local purchase of development rights programs to help protect farmland. An additional $123,410 has been allocated to Virginia Cooperative Extension for farm transition workshops during this timeframe.
Virginia’s agricultural industry is as diverse as the climate regions found within the state. Made up of Tidewater, Piedmont, Northern Virginia, Western Mountain and Southwestern Mountain, each region has unique temperature, soil and rainfall.
Broilers, cattle and calves, dairy products, turkeys and chicken eggs are some of the top livestock-related commodities in Virginia. Broilers are the biggest moneymaker, with chicken meat ranked No. 2 for agricultural exports. Virginia ham and pork are other important products, known worldwide. In fact, only hams produced in Smithfield, Va., are allowed to be called Smithfield hams.
In addition to the widely produced crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat, wine grapes are increasing in popularity. As of 2012, Virginia was home to more than 230 wineries and about 3,000 acres of vineyards. This expanding commodity not only generates sales, but also draws tourists to the bucolic vineyards for tastings and other events.
Another growth area in Virginia is in the tobacco industry. With new technological developments, this historic crop is ranked 4th in the nation and generates $81 million from unprocessed leaves alone.
The balance of tradition and innovation has allowed Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industry to flourish. With an emphasis on land preservation and the expansion of agritourism, this $70 billion industry is constantly evolving.