Virginia’s rich history in agricultural production dates back to the first permanent settlement in America. As the state’s first industry, it’s still the Commonwealth’s largest. Agriculture has solidified its place as the anchor of Virginia’s economy, supporting other industries including manufacturing, transportation, retail and wholesale.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that agriculture is a significant provider of jobs for Virginians. Together, agriculture and forestry provide employment for more than 400,000 people. Every job in agriculture and forestry supports 1.6 jobs elsewhere in Virginia’s economy. It’s easy to see the success of that workforce, as the total economic impact of agriculture and forestry is almost $70 billion per year.
Virginia is home to more than 46,000 farms, covering 33 percent of the state’s total land area. Broilers, cattle and calves, and dairy products are a few top commodities, playing a role as major contributors to the economy. In 2012, the state’s broiler industry generated $649 million in farm cash receipts. Based on the number of head, Virginia ranks fifth in the nation for turkeys, and 10th in the nation for broilers.
Though these commodities are among the state’s strongest, Virginia’s geographically diverse landscape and mild climate provide the opportunity for a wide variety of products. The Old Dominion also grows and raises corn, soybeans, cotton, peanuts, Christmas trees, grapes, lambs and wool, mushrooms and much more.
While livestock and crops are important to Virginia agriculture, the industry encompasses many other aspects as well, including thriving value-added agribusinesses, agritourism destinations, agricultural education, and conservation and sustainability efforts.
The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services works to promote local products through the Virginia Grown and Virginia’s Finest® programs, protects consumers through food safety programs, introduces students to locally grown products with the Farm to School program and much more.
Virginia is helping to heat things up overseas as a key exporter of wood pellets – a renewable, natural resource.
A form of wood fuel, wood pellets are generally made from compressed sawdust or other wood manufacturing residues. In countries such as France, Germany and Italy, wood pellets are used for individual home heating, and in Denmark and Sweden, they’re used for district-level heating plants, as well as combined heat and electricity-generating power plants.
For the Old Dominion, international demand for wood pellets is a positive. Virginia exported $35 million worth of wood pellets in 2012, and for the United States as a whole, wood pellet exports have doubled in the past two years, reaching 4.7 million tons in 2013. The United Kingdom is the Commonwealth’s largest export market for wood pellets, where they are used for electricity generation.
Next time you spread sweet, sticky honey on a fresh biscuit, thank Virginia’s buzzing honeybees.
The Commonwealth is doing its part to keep these essential insects top of mind with consumers, celebrating the first-ever Virginia Honey Month in September 2014.
Honeybees are extremely important for Virginia and U.S. agriculture, as they help to pollinate many crops. In the U.S., honeybees pollinate more than $20 billion worth of crops annually. Their honey production, however, is just as sweet.
In keeping with the local food movement, honey is one of the most pure and natural ingredients. The gooey substance is perfect to amp up the flavor in culinary dishes, but is also reported to have many health benefits, including helping with digestive issues, boosting immunity and fighting insomnia.
Do your part to ensure honeybees stick around by planting a pollinator garden with a range of nectar and pollen sources, or by becoming a beekeeper.
25th Anniversary of Virginia’s Finest®
The Virginia’s Finest® program, highlighting the best specialty food products in the state, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2014.
Connecting consumers and producers, the program strives to increase awareness of local Virginia specialty food products, featuring everything from honey and herbs to microbrews and wine. Products marked as Virginia’s Finest® are easily identified by the familiar checkmark logo, assuring customers the product is topnotch. The program is looking forward to another successful quarter-century.
Learn more about Virginia’s Finest® at vafinest.com.