International offices, trade missions lead to increased agricultural exports

virginiaVirginia’s proactive approach to international trade has landed the state $4.5 million in new export sales of soybean products to Southeast Asian markets.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Dr. Basil Gooden told attendees at the ninth annual Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade March 7 that “Southeast Asia represents a significant emerging market for Virginia agriculture and forestry products.” He explained that the presence of a new international trade office in Singapore and a reverse trade mission during which Southeast Asian buyers visited Virginia soybean farms helped facilitate the recent export deal.

“Our international agricultural trade offices are a critical resource for Virginia producers, as is our ability to bring overseas buyers here to Virginia to meet our producers face to face.”

Gooden noted that other international trade offices helped Virginia producers sell $1 million in forest products to the United Kingdom last year and $2.5 million worth of apples to India over the past two years. “These initiatives make a difference in the bottom line for Virginia producers.”

Agricultural and forestry exports from Virginia were valued at $2.75 billion in 2016. Virginia’s exports to Southeast Asia last year reached $178.5 million, of which about $55.1 million were soybeans and soybean meal, the largest category of exports to the region. Soybeans are, in fact, the No. 1 export for Virginia farmers, with $678 million in sales in 2016.

Wood exports were Virginia’s second-largest export, followed by leaf tobacco, pork and soy meal, Gooden said. China remains the No. 1 destination for the state’s agricultural and forestry exports, followed by Canada, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Tunisia in North Africa. Tunisia was ranked in the 30s in 2015 but in 2016 it purchased 765 percent more soybeans from Virginia, Gooden explained.

In the future, Gooden said his office plans to rely more heavily on research and economic analyses for making data-driven decisions, and to more accurately quantify the state’s agricultural and forestry exports.

The agricultural trade conference was co-hosted by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, the Virginia Port Authority and Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics.