As the state’s slogan says, Virginia is for lovers – including lovers of the land. Virginia’s vital agriculture industry is made up of farmers and growers producing top commodities, forestry, agribusinesses, restaurants, farmers’ markets, educational institutions and more. It is the number one industry in the state, providing close to 311,000 jobs and $52 billion to the economy annually. Every job in agriculture and forestry supports 1.6 jobs elsewhere in the state.
Virginia has nearly 46,000 farms spreading across nearly 8.2 million acres of land. The average farm measures 179 acres in size, and Virginia farmers grow and raise a range of commodities.
Livestock dominates Virginia’s top commodities with broilers, cattle and calves, and turkeys ranking in the top five. Other key products include milk, soybeans, greenhouse and nursery products, corn for grain, hay and wheat.
The state is a leader in produce production as well, with crops ranging from tomatoes to apples and grapes to potatoes.
Its forestry sector also plays a large role in the overall industry. The state produces both hardwood and softwood timber as well as Christmas trees, and annually, forestry alone contributes about $17 billion to the state’s economy in terms of industrial production and forest-related values. Forests are great for a sustainable environment as well, providing consumers with recreation, clean air and clean water, and habitat for wildlife.
While Virginians reap the benefits of locally grown food and resources, the Commonwealth feeds the rest of the world too.
Soybeans are the top agricultural export for Virginia in terms of cash receipts, followed by wood, soy meal, pork, leaf tobacco and poultry. The state exports the majority of its products to China, Canada, Switzerland, Mexico and Russia.
To help feed the world, Virginia’s colleges and universities are doing their part to research innovative ways to solve global food and hunger issues. For example, in 2012, the USDA gave Virginia State University a fiscal award of $1.14 million to support research that keeps American agriculture competitive while addressing the issue of world hunger. With this continued growth and innovation, Virginia’s leading industry is poised for even more success.
Virginia’s wine sector deserves a toast. The wine industry contributes almost $750 million annually to Virginia’s economy and the state is home to more than 250 wineries. Virginia ranks fifth in the nation for wine grape production.
Bloomberg News recently named Virginia one of the “next big wine regions,” citing the state’s rich history, natural beauty and outstanding winemakers. In July 2015, almost 60 Virginia wines received a score of 90 or greater in Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate.
Virginia’s signature grape is viognier, a white variety that produces full-bodied wines, but the five distinct growing regions of the state provide other varietals as well, including chambourcin, merlot, malbec, chardonnay, riesling, pinotage and more. Virginia wineries sold more than 524,000 cases of wine, or more than 6.5 million bottles, in fiscal year 2015.
Discover more about Virginia’s wine and grape industry at virginiawine.org.
Ham It Up
Virginia ham was one of the first agricultural products exported from North America. In 1775, the Reverend Mr. Andrew Burnaby enthusiastically reported that Virginia pork was superior in flavor to any in the world.
Today, after more than three centuries of progress, Virginia ham is still considered a superb product because of its distinctive savory taste.
Perhaps the most widely known country hams of the U.S. are those of Smithfield, Va., which were traditionally processed from hogs fattened on acorns, nuts and corn.
O Christmas Tree
Pick the perfect pine or fir at one of almost 500 Christmas tree farms across Virginia. With an estimated 7 million trees growing on 10,000 acres in the Old Dominion, Virginia’s industry not only provides a memorable holiday for consumers, but also significantly contributes to the state’s economy. With fresh wreaths and garland included, Virginia’s Christmas tree industry is worth approximately $50 million annually.
According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, conducted by the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service, the state’s industry ranked seventh in the nation in terms of total trees harvested. The top-selling tree varieties include balsam fir, Douglas fir, Fraser fir, noble fir, Scotch pine, Virginia pine and white pine.
Learn more about Virginia-grown Christmas trees at virginiachristmastrees.org.
Port Of Call
The Port of Virginia plays a vital role in exporting agricultural products all over the world, acting as a first-in, last-out port of call for many.
With a global reach, the port offers direct service to more than 45 countries, including nearly 30 weekly vessel calls to Europe and Asia.
In the U.S., two-thirds of the country’s population is within a day’s drive to the Port of Virginia. It takes just one-and-a-half days to reach Columbus, Ohio, via rail – faster than any other East Coast port.
Ruling The Forest
The poultry sector accounts for two of Virginia’s top agricultural commodities. In 2013, state farmers produced almost 279 million broilers (chickens raised for meat) and turkeys – helping to meet the growing food needs of the U.S. and rest of the world.
The poultry sector also hatches many jobs in the state. Nearly 15,700 people work in the industry with companies such as Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms – not to mention the 36,650 people employed in supplier and secondary industries. Additionally, 1,100 farm families run 800 chicken and 300 turkey farms statewide.