Virginia Exports

In today’s economy, agribusinesses and farm operations are encouraged to go global. International export opportunities abound for Virginia agriculture, which in turn generates dollars for the state’s economy.

“Last year, we had a record $2.35 billion in exports, an all-time high,” says Charles Green, director of marketing for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Compared with some other states, he says Virginia has a diverse portfolio of agricultural products – soybeans, corn, small grains, pork, poultry, grapes, apples, peaches, forestry, and aquaculture, to name a few. The state is poised to attract these export opportunities because of its infrastructure, Green says, including trucking and deep-water ports. In addition, CSX and Norfolk Southern railway companies offer rail service, while airports such as Dulles International in the Northern Virginia area have access to high-value products that can be airlifted all over the world.

Goods Around the Globe

Virginia agribusinesses and farmers send their products to a wide selection of countries.

In 2011, the top state’s export markets were Morocco (buying $360 million in Virginia products), China ($304 million), Canada ($220 million), Switzerland ($149 million) and Egypt ($139 million), according to the Global Trade Information Services.

Green believes this strength gives Virginia an edge in the competitive and rapidly expanding business of exporting. For instance, Carter Mountain Orchard in Charlottesville sells a lot of apples, peaches and grapes domestically to local groceries, grocery chain stores and the military, but the family-operated farm has been exporting its products for more than two decades.

“We were looking back at some old pictures with the 100-year celebration we just had, and we found a picture of my mom and dad with the first tractor-trailer of export apples from back in the ’80s sometime,” says Cynthia Chiles, retail manager of the orchard, which was founded in 1912. “I’d say in the last 15 to 20 years that market has become much more developed, and there are a lot more opportunities now.”

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Carter Mountain Orchard products are exported mainly to Central America, Europe and the Middle East.

Virginia Ag Exports

To help establish these markets, the Chiles family has attended trade missions and international buying and selling shows to stay in touch with customers, met with buyers in the targeted countries, sought out Farm Service Agency federal funding, and participated in marketing activities offered by the Produce Marketing Association and the U.S. Apple Export Council.

The international market continues to evolve for the better. Green says the planned widening of the Panama Canal will provide larger ships access from and to Asia and the U.S. East Coast.

“We will be able to utilize that widened canal,” he says. “Virginia is poised to be able to take advantage in increasing exports with that widening.”

Increasing exports haven’t just been for developed countries. Green says Virginia agricultural products sell to a cornucopia of customers, trading with rapidly expanding economies such as China and seeking out new markets in Latin America.

Last year, Green says China ranked second among countries purchasing agricultural goods from Virginia. He expects the Asian nation to surpass Morocco for the No. 1 spot in 2012, due to its rapid expansion. “A decade ago, they weren’t in the top 10,” he says.

As another example, he points to Virginia’s trade with Cuba. The first year that the state was able to trade with Cuba, about a decade ago, Virginia exported goods totaling about $900,000. In 2011, that sales figure skyrocketed to $65 million. In late 2012, Green had hoped to continue that momentum by traveling on a trade trip to Cuba.

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A Statewide Success

No particular geographic region is singled out as the top area for trade products, Green says. Virginia offers agricultural goods from all over the state, ranging from the grains, pork and vegetables of the East Coast to poultry and apples north in the Shenandoah Valley to cattle in central and southwestern parts of the state.

When the export opportunities exist, Green says, farmers can benefit. Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) illustrate that, and farmers have noticed.

“USDA estimates 30 percent of cash receipts can be tied to farm sales,” Green says. “He or she knows their product will receive greater recognition.”

Increased exports can bring more jobs in food processing; transportation by rail, ports and air; financing through domestic and international banking sectors; and fumigation of wood products shipped overseas to meet import requirements.

Increased jobs and sales through growing exports create a win-win for Virginia’s agricultural economy and its homegrown products.



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