For hundreds of years, Virginia agriculture has flourished due to the commitment and hard work of people who produce crops in the fields, animals on the farm or foster scientific discovery in the lab. It’s the combination of persistence and perspiration that keeps Virginia producers competitive in the tough global market.
By combining these outlets, the state’s crop scene has become increasingly diverse. More Virginia producers are taking advantage of emerging markets by growing new and specialized products. Many have already delved into specialty crop areas and have seen the benefits of being part of a specialized market.
Niche Agriculture Benefits
With more than 30 years in a specialty crop market, Bryan Taliaferro has seen both the pluses and minuses ofbeing a part a niche agricultural field.
In the late 1980s, Taliaferro began showing interest in food-grade soybeans. Today, Montague Farms grows nearly 2,000 acres of food-grade soybeans every year, representing about half of the farm’s total crop production acreage.
“We have had to adapt and grow ourselves and our knowledge throughout the years.” Taliaferro says. “For instance, we have to pay much closer attention to the quality of our product since it is being used for human consumption. If even a few beans out of the millions of beans we ship in a truckload are slightly off-color, we have to remove them because our customers expect the best from us and we work to give it to them.”
While every specialty crop is unique, a high-quality product is essential – regardless of the type being grown.
“Specialty crops are special,” Taliaferro says. “You have to provide quality products. After all, these are agricultural commodities that are going to end up on someone’s dinner table. This is a whole new level of specifications and restrictions that you have to work with if you want to get involved in a specialty crop field.
In order to navigate unfamiliar waters, Taliaferro recommends using every available resource. This includes web resources, contacting the local county extension agent, working with area institutions of higher education or directly with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“We actually entered the soybean field because of a lead from the Virginia Department of Agriculture,” Taliaferro says. “We followed up on the lead and decided it was the field we wanted to be involved in. After that, we worked with the soybean breeding facility at Virginia Tech University to find a soybean variety that was just what the Japanese market was looking for. Those two stars aligned, so to speak, and gave us a chance to get this business started.”
One goal of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is to connect state agriculture producers with potential buyers. These connections bring new sales and opportunities for producers whether it is direction, retail, wholesale or international markets. One program that allows for this is through the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund.
“This Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund attracts business investment and job creation to the state of Virginia,” says Charles Green, director of marketing and development for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “The jobs that are created from smaller agribusinesses are extremely important to the state of Virginia. There are worthy projects that are taking place or could take place, but there wasn’t a state economic program to help those projects along. This fund will help combat this issue.”