My plan for growing Virginia’s agricultural economy

I learned a lot of lessons growing up on my family’s farm on the Eastern Shore: the dignity of hard work, the importance of planning ahead, and the joy you get from serving others. Not to mention how to collect eggs, shear a sheep, and bail hay by hand.

My brother Tom and me with a menagerie of animals on the Eastern Shore.

But maybe the most important thing I learned is that you reap what you sow. Here in Virginia, we’re blessed to have a thriving agricultural economy. In fact, agriculture and forestry are our first- and third-largest private industries. But if we want to continue to grow our agricultural economy — and in turn, create opportunities for our rural communities to thrive — we have to commit to continued and expanded investment.

Virginia is my home, and I know what it takes to ensure our prosperity — that’s why I’ll approach economic growth by utilizing the success of our agricultural sector. Here’s how I plan to do it:

Investing in producers and agribusinesses

During the McAuliffe–Northam Administration, we saw a 30% increase in the economic impact of Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industries, which now contribute billions to Virginia’s economy and employ over 442,000 Virginians. Not to mention, unemployment is lower today than it’s been in nine years. During my time in the General Assembly, I supported the creation of the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund. Essentially, it targets the unique needs of agribusiness growth. Since it began, it has yielded $395 million in new capital investment and spurred the creation of nearly two thousand jobs. Importantly, the grants require these agribusinesses to buy Virginia-grown products, which has generated an additional $378 million in new purchases from Virginia’s farmers and forestland owners.

We want to ensure our producers have the tools they need in order to reap the largest profit possible, which is why I worked alongside Governor McAuliffe to create the Virginia Farm Business Development Program. This measure helps farmers and small agribusinesses grow their operations by providing reimbursements for certain business-related services. As governor, making sure this program is fully funded will be at the top of my list, and you can be sure I’ll see it though. I’m confident that instilling measures like these will help spur growth in Virginia’s agribusiness sector, and in turn contribute to our whole economy.

Promoting global trade

Despite global headwinds, international trade remains a huge opportunity for Virginia producers, and our commonwealth has been a leader in promoting agricultural exports for the past decade. In the last two years alone, we’ve seen Virginia agricultural and forestry exports exceed $3 billion for the first time in history. We are blessed with natural competitive advantages that allow us to get the produce our farmers make to markets around the world. However, to keep this unique advantage, we have to continue to invest in the Port of Virginia and expand into new and growing markets. I know this is important, and it’s why I’ve supported the growth of our global trade marketing network and shown folks how important it is to invest in the Port of Virginia.

You can count on me to promote Virginia-grown products around the world. Thanks to the high quality and diversity of products available from our outstanding producers and agribusinesses, I believe our agriculture exports will continue to grow. As governor, I’ll make promoting these products a priority.

Boosting Virginia’s aquaculture prospects

Growing up on the Eastern Shore, I’ve learned how important aquaculture and marine life are to sustaining Virginia’s economy and way of life. In fact, I supported recent legislation to include aquaculture, commercially-caught fish, and seafood in the definition of agricultural products — this ensures watermen are eligible for economic development funding to help expand their businesses. As Virginia’s reputation for a seafood destination continues to grow, I’ll make sure our marine products are promoted around the globe.

Developing our agritourism industry

Agritourism combines Virginia’s first and second largest industries — agriculture and tourism — to fuel Virginia’s very own economic powerhouse. Each year, agritourism contributes $2.2 billion to Virginia’s economy. As more consumers show interest in finding out where their food comes from and learning more about the folks who grow it, supporting agritourism destinations is a clear win for Virginia. From restaurants and wineries, to farms, breweries, cideries, and distilleries, destinations like these attract tourists from all over and encourage them to spend money right here in our commonwealth.

Improving rural roads and transportation

While aiding congestion and environmental quality are important initiatives for more urban regions, measures such as economic development and accessibility need to remain a focus for more rural areas.

The funding of rural roads is imperative if we want to continue to grow our economy and improve the overall health of our vast, rural regions in the commonwealth. As a native of the Eastern Shore, I know that a single trip down U.S. Route 13 and across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge — Tunnel can show us how important infrastructure is to rural Virginia. Allocating state money for infrastructure will need to work for all regions of Virginia, and as governor, I’m especially committed to ensuring the wellbeing of our rural areas.

Revitalizing the health of the Chesapeake Bay

After growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, restoring the quality of its water is something I care deeply about. I’ve worked with farmers and homebuilders to remedy the quality of the Bay and its tributaries and helped write a law banning the use of phosphorus in home fertilizers to reduce chemical runoff. Additionally, my administration will oppose lifting the 35 year ban on uranium mining. It would be irresponsible to risk the economic disaster that would result from a mining accident, and it would have devastating effects on both our economy and agriculture industry.

Along with the health of the Chesapeake, it’s critical we take care of and preserve our aquaculture industry, especially crabs and oysters. With this in mind, I’ve led efforts to stop the introduction of non-native oysters to the Bay and ended winter dredging of blue crabs. It wasn’t easy, but after bringing stakeholders to the table and working out solutions, we found common ground. All over the commonwealth, we have great examples of farmers stepping up and implementing best practices for farm management by utilizing programs like Virginia Agricultural BMP Cost-Share Program, Virginia BMP Tax Credit Program and the Resource Management Planning Program. At the end of the day, everyone wants to see our commonwealth healthy and thriving, and it’s in this same spirit in which I’ll serve as your governor.

Read Ralph’s entire plan for a stronger agricultural economy here.