Ag officials look back, forward
Year 2022 has been an eventful year for agriculture in the Delmarva. Farmers continued to face supply chain difficulties, inflation, diseases, the Ukraine-Russia War, and trade with other nations, among other issues.
“We have experienced significant issues involving local, national, and global impacts on the supply chain involving Delaware Agriculture,” said Michael Scuse, Delaware agriculture secretary. “The Ukraine-Russia War caused fertilizer prices to increase significantly, with nitrogen tripling in cost this past year. We are still seeing supply chain issues related to COVID. Some of the chemicals were in short supply, which drove prices up. As agriculture has advanced, we have become more mechanized, and our machinery is specialized to increase productivity. Our producers had issues sourcing parts for equipment. And we saw equipment manufacturers have to delay or slow production because of the supply chain or workforce issues.”
Scuse noted difficulties in finding people willing to work in jobs related to agriculture, stating that “there is a severe shortage of agricultural workers in the United States on farms and in food processing and manufacturing.”
He said trade will continue to be an important aspect of agriculture in the state.
“The recent announcement of annual funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development Program (FMD) will allow us to continue expanding existing markets and exploring opportunities to create new markets.”
Disease in the poultry industry impacted Delaware during 2022. Scuse said the impact will likely continue to affect agriculture in the United States.
“With HPAI hitting the U.S. in February, it has since impacted 47 states, with Delaware being one of the first states to be affected,” Scuse said. “The disease has caused the prices for eggs, as well as turkeys, to rise. HPAI has been a tremendous expense to USDA-APHIS, the states, and the producers who have been battling the disease, and we are by no means through this outbreak as we continue to see positive flocks in parts of the country.”
Agriculture continued to be one of the strongest sectors of the economy throughout the Delmarva states.
“Virginia’s agriculture industry remains vibrant and dynamic,” said Michael Wallace, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “Despite any external challenges, the industry continues to grow and be an essential part of Virginia’s economy. A recently released economic impact study from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service found that in 2021, the total impact of Virginia agricultural industries alone was $82.3 billion in total industry output, included 381,844 jobs, and $43.8 billion in value-added impact. This data confirms that agriculture is still the Commonwealth of Virginia’s largest private industry.”
“As the demand for safe, sustainable, locally grown food increases, Virginia is quickly becoming the destination of choice for companies in innovation-driven industries like controlled environment agriculture (CEA),” Wallace continued. “CEA’s are fundamentally changing agribusiness with environmentally and socially responsible technologies that make local, sustainable produce available to more communities.”
Wallace added, “as a top state in the CEA industry, Virginia offers a Mid-Atlantic location with strategic access to domestic consumer markets, access to plentiful natural resources and competitively priced electricity, a skilled talent pipeline, and exceptional partners like the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Recent CEA announcements in the Commonwealth include Greenswell Growers, Plenty, AeroFarms, and Beanstalk.”
Disease and events in foreign countries have affected agricultural activities in Virginia.
“The pandemic and geopolitical events, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, export restrictions imposed by China, and policy decisions from Washington, have all played a critical role in an already complex supply chain,” according to Wallace. “Dramatic spikes in fuel and chemical prices have affected input prices, such as fertilizer, and transportation cost for Virginia agricultural industries. Since January 2021, the most recent data from the USDA indicates that the prices of key fertilizer sources have increased by more than 200%. This increase is on top of the nearly doubled average cost of on-road diesel and gasoline.”
Wallace noted that energy resources and the value of the U.S. dollar will continue to be important to farmers and agricultural businesses in Virginia.
“Governor Glenn Youngkins’ 2022 Virginia Energy Plan calls for an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy approach that promotes reliable and affordable energy resources,” said Wallace. “Governor Youngkin’s plan takes into consideration the critical role energy resources hold in our economy and in helping Virginia agricultural producers.”
“In addition, the value of the U.S. dollar is currently surging,” Wallace said. “While that is good for purchasing imports, it isn’t good for many exporters. When the U.S. dollar is strong, Virginia agricultural products become more expensive and therefore less attractive to foreign buyers. That is why it is imperative that we continue to strengthen international marketing opportunities.”
As development of the 2023 Farm Bill starts up, agricultural advocacy groups such as American Farm Bureau Federation and Virginia Farm Bureau Federation are prepared to debate and support the issues surrounding the legislation.
“Protecting current farm bill program spending, maintaining a unified farm bill that governs nutrition programs and agricultural programs together, and assuring that changes to existing farm bill policy are made as amendments to the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 or Agricultural Act of 1949,” are among the current priorities of the VFBF according to Ben Rowe, national affairs coordinator for the VFBF. “Other concerns include prioritizing risk management tools, funding for federal crop insurance and commodity programs, and ensuring adequate funding for U.S. Department of Agriculture staffing and technical assistance.”
At the state level, Virginia agriculture saw a windfall of funding for conservation.
The VFBF noted that “a total of $295 million for the July 1, 2022, through June 30, 2024, biennium was allocated in the state budget to help farmers implement conservation practices.”
During the VFBF’s 2022 annual convention in November, Wayne Pryor, president of the VFBF, called the state legislature’s passage of full funding for agricultural best management practices a historic decision and “an unprecedented amount of funding.”
Pryor said the funding comes after more than a decade of advocacy for increased support. “Farmers have always been stewards of their land, and they want to continue preserving our natural resources for the next generations, but conservation practices can be costly. Now that this funding has been allocated, I know many of you will take advantage of this opportunity to improve the state’s farmland and help keep our waterways healthy.”
Pryor said VFBF also helped ensure that $1.55 million was included in the state budget for retention of Virginia Cooperative Extension agents and for hiring additional ones.
“The boots on the ground that these agents provide is invaluable to our farmers,” he said.
Farmer’s mental health remains a concern for VFBF, according to the organization.
VFBF is working to promote the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ newly launched AgriStress Helpline to provide the state’s farmers with mental health support. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and has interpretation services for 160 languages. Farmers can call or text 833-897-2474 to speak directly with a healthcare professional. Crisis specialists have access to a Virginia-specific database of agricultural and health resources.
“Stress on a farm never ends,” said Dana Fisher, chairman of the VFBF Safety Advisory Committee. He said the committee is leading the organization’s mental health support efforts.
“Stress and mental health issues are always a problem in the agriculture community, and stress can lead to costly mistakes on the job,” Fisher said. “Taking care of one’s mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health, but farmers don’t always know who to talk to.”
In addition to these comments from local leaders within the Delmarva, the USDA provided perspectives on agricultural activities throughout the nation during 2022.
“Over the past year, USDA has been laser-focused on bringing more, new and better markets to farmers and producers across the country. Pandemic-related supply chain disruptions and [Russian President] Putin’s price hike has led to shortages of food in countries around the globe and has made our supply chain less resilient.”
The statement noted that “Our farmers and agriculture producers have seen their fair share of hardship these past few years but no one represents the strength of the American people more than they do. At USDA, we believe that when rural America thrives, so does the rest of the country – and the Biden-Harris Administration has many programs and opportunities to back up that belief.”
“USDA has entered into a number of agreements with ports across the country to facilitate the flow of ag products,” the statement from the USDA continued. “And thanks to the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, there will be extra resources to get product to market more quickly, efficiently, and less expensively. Through a series of new financing initiatives, technical assistance programs, procurement partnerships, and more, USDA is expanding the middle of the food supply chain so producers can better tap into local and regional food markets.”
The USDA statement said the agency continues to look for growth opportunities.
“Additionally, USDA is looking at all the tools we have to promote competition, including by investing $500 million in American-made fertilizer capacity to spur competition, to combat price hikes on U.S. farmers caused by the war in Ukraine, and to bring jobs back to the United States,” the statement noted. “In November, U.S. agricultural exports in FY22 reached a new record of $196.4 billion, up $24.7 billion – or 14%, from the previous record in FY21. This is a testament to the resiliency of our economy and it is also a testament to the ways in which the agriculture community can adapt to challenges and thrive from their lessons. We are particularly proud of America’s agricultural leadership and innovation.”