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Governor announces goal to double Virginia’s farm exports by 2035

Published: Apr. 1, 2021 at 8:39 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) - Virginia’s largest industry hopes to play a big role in growing America’s brand globally.

Leaders from Virginia’s government, agricultural and economic sectors took part in the Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade on March 30 to discuss opportunities for enhancing agricultural exports. The 13th annual event was held virtually this year and was sponsored in part by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, or VFBF.

Virginia governor Ralph Northam said agricultural leaders will continue to foster new markets for Virginia exports and he looks forward to increased stability in trade relationships with key partners worldwide.

“Our goal is aggressive,” Northam said. “In the next 15 years, we will expand Virginia’s international trade output by nearly 50%. That would put us in the top 20 states for exports by 2035. If we can do that, we’ll add close to $18 billion in annual exports to our current $36 billion generated.”

Wilmer Stoneman, the vice president of VFBF agriculture, development, and innovation, said this goal is big but he thinks it’s necessary to help farmers recover post-pandemic.

“With the right technology and the right advancements and good ole farm know-how, we can certainly achieve those goals, but it’s going to take certainly transportation infrastructure,” Stoneman said. “It’s going to take storage infrastructure to make that happen.”

Agricultural leaders and economists logged in from China to Washington, D.C., including U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He outlined how agricultural trade is essential to President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” initiative.

Vilsack is optimistic about the future as commodity prices improve and trade increases.

He explained the trajectory can be bolstered by expanding American exports, strengthening relationships in the markets, cultivating an international presence, and diversifying trading partnerships.

He said farmers should anticipate “incredible opportunities for American agriculture” as the middle class grows in Southeast Asia.

“In Asia, we anticipate and expect in the next 15 years there will be an increase in middle-class consumers by 3.5 billion people,” Vilsack said. “That’s 10 times the population of the U.S., so it makes sense to have opportunities in Southeast Asia.”

Dr. John Newton, American Farm Bureau Federation’s chief economist, said the farm economy is moving in a positive direction with the highest crop prices in years. Production has far outpaced the industry’s carbon footprint, feeding and clothing more Americans than ever, and expanding trade abroad, he said.

“We’re producing 150 times more agricultural products than we did 30 years ago,” Newton said. “At the same time, our inputs are virtually unchanged. We’re doing more with less.”

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