Northam announces goal to double Virginia’s farm exports in 15 years
RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia’s largest industry is poised to play a big role in growing America’s brand globally.
Leaders from Virginia’s government, agricultural and economic sectors took part in the March 30 Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade to discuss opportunities for enhancing agricultural exports. The 13th annual event was held virtually this year with more than 200 participants.
Gov. Ralph Northam said agricultural leaders will continue to foster new markets for Virginia exports.
“Our goal is aggressive,” he said. “In the next 15 years, we will expand Virginia’s international trade output by nearly 50 percent. 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.”
Northam said he looks forward to increased stability in trade relationships with key partners worldwide.
Virginia now ranks third on the East Coast for agriculture exports, he said and last year farm exports increased 22 percent from 2019.
He said the state’s work to make the Port of Virginia the deepest on the East Coast will also help increase trade.
When dredging is complete in 2024, the commercial channels serving the Norfolk Harbor will be able to simultaneously accommodate two, ultra-large container vessels.
“I’m very optimistic and look forward to working with all of you to advance our industry,” he said. “We know trade is only going to get stronger and stronger in Virginia.”
Agricultural leaders and economists logged into the virtual conference from China to Washington, D.C., including U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
While the past few years have been challenging for American agriculture, Vilsack is optimistic about the future as commodity prices improve and trade increases.
“It’s really simple, it’s all about markets at the end of the day,” Vilsack said.
He added the economy’s upward trajectory can be bolstered by expanding American exports, strengthening relationships in the markets, cultivating an international presence and diversifying trading partnerships.
For growth to happen all the way down to the farm level, new markets need to be tapped, existing markets improved and markets need to be more fair and equitable.
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.”
Virginia’s farmers showcase the American brand — one that is innovative, places a premium on safety and practices sustainability, he said.
“Virginia has great producers and a governor who understands the importance of trade, and a tremendous diversity of products you can provide, and the ability to literally do business all over the world, as you are today,” Vilsack said.
Bringing a national economic outlook Dr. John Newton, American Farm Bureau Federation’s chief economist, said the conference was the first opportunity in quite a while he was able to share good news with participants.
The U.S. farm economy is moving in a positive direction with the highest crop prices in years.
Exports to China reached a record high in 2020 with the Phase 1 Agreement between the United States and China.
“We all know what that’s doing to commodity prices in the last few months and that’s push them higher,” Newton said.
Globally he said ag exports are projected to increase 16 percent from 2020.
Newton said he expects cash receipts for farmers to increase $20 billion but government payments to fall 45 percent from 2020 as the pandemic recovery continues.
With overall production costs estimated to increase $9 billion, Newton said net farm income is projected to fall 8 percent from 2020 but that would still rank it at fourth highest all time.
“The farm economy is definitely getting stronger and we certainly hope it stays that way,” Newton said.
With much focus on climate change and companies and governments look to offset their carbon footprint, agriculture should be able to realize another revenue stream through sequestration, something that could be spelled out in the next Farm Bill.
Now, farmers get about 8 percent of the food dollars people spend.
“We’ve got to make sure it works for the farmer,” he said of carbon credit trading programs. “If we create a carbon dollar, the farmer’s got to get more than 8 percent.”