As the first Virginia poultry shipment in seven years sailed to China in the summer of 2014, Virginia poultry farmers, the poultry industry and the state celebrated.
“It’s really great that we got our China market back after seven years of being locked out,” says Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation. “Poultry is the largest individual sector of Virginia’s agriculture industry, accounting for about one-third of all farm cash receipts. China will provide opportunities going forward. It’s a very important export market.”
China is a significant customer for U.S. poultry, purchasing more than $416 million in 2013. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) predicts that Virginia may earn more than $20 million in additional export revenue each year when trade volumes reach capacity. Poultry giant Perdue alone projects a 35 percent increase in volume shipped from Virginia, thanks to the ban being lifted.
The ban was enacted in 2007 after an isolated case of low pathogenic avian influenza was reported on one turkey farm in the state. China refused poultry produced in Virginia, and even poultry from other states that was transiting through Virginia or exported from any of its terminals.
Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore began working on this ban during the previous administration and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe made lifting the ban a centerpiece of his economic policy. Both were present when the first shipment left the Port of Virginia bound for Shenzhen, Guangdong State, China. The port stands to benefit from the increased poultry exports along with producers and processors.
That success was a team effort, says Dr. Richard Wilkes, state veterinarian and director of the VDACS Division of Animal and Food Industry Services.
Wilkes and his staff communicated regularly with the U.S. trade relations office, providing complete, accurate and detailed information prior to and after the event on the single farm in Virginia that involved one flock.
“In addition, we worked with them to persistently keep solid information before the trade negotiators whenever they went to visit with Chinese trade officials about the possibility of opening up the trade,” Wilkes says. “During the delegation’s visit to (the state), we toured farms with the Chinese delegation and provided summary information on all the testing we had done after that event to assure them that we had no remnants of the infection in our commercial industry.”
Delegations from China have observed every aspect of poultry production in Virginia from the farm to processing to delivery at the port.
The success of lifting the ban also involved building on Virginia’s already strong relationship with China. China ranked as the number one market for Virginia’s agricultural exports in 2013, with more than $580 million in purchases.
China aside, Virginia’s 2013 poultry exports topped $186 million for all other markets. Poultry is the largest sector of the state’s agriculture industry, with an estimated $1.2 billion in annual cash receipts.
“International trade is certainly important,” says Bauhan, who adds that China and similar countries are key, partly due to their demand for poultry parts that may otherwise be wasted.
“Chicken feet don’t sell for much here in the United States, but are highly valued in China and other parts of Asia,” Bauhan says. “That’s an important market for that reason. Also, U.S. consumers tend to prefer the white meat, whereas people in Vietnam, China and other countries prefer the back half of the bird, the leg quarters.”
Virginia has a niche of sorts when it comes to countries where poultry is exported.
“If you look at the top export destinations for Virginia poultry, they don’t necessarily match up with those for the United States as a whole” he says. “There are some 40 countries we export to, and some in the top 10 might surprise you. Virginia has a positive climate for the poultry industry.”