Virginia may be ranked ninth in the nation for agricultural exports in 2010, but Secretary of Agriculture & Forestry Todd Haymore is already itching to hit the road.
"We have a number of trade missions coming up," Haymore said at Virginia’s third annual Agricultural Trade Workshop. "In May we’re going to Asia: China, Korea and Japan. We’re going to India and Israel in November, sometime after I get back from Cuba and before Thanksgiving," he said.
According to trade figures released at the conference, Virginia agricultural and forestry exports totaled $2.24 billion in 2010, despite a worldwide recession and a drought that reduced yields for some of the state’s top crops.
Exports of some Virginia commodities increased last year, including pork, poultry, wood products and soybeans. But trade statistics show Virginia tobacco exports declined $273 million in 2010. "We don’t know yet if that was a shipping and timing issue or if we’re actually seeing a decline in the demand for tobacco," Haymore said.
Overall, the state’s trade picture remains good, he continued. For the first two months of 2011, Virginia ag exports are trending higher than a year earlier. And the Virginia General Assembly set aside almost $500,000 in new funding for overseas ag trade efforts in 2011, the first new money in several years.
Meanwhile, the state continues to work to open even unconventional overseas markets such as Cuba. "There’s tremendous ag trade opportunity there," said Charles Green, marketing director for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Green noted that Cuba imported $10.25 billion in products in 2010 and that soybeans, wheat, beans, peas, rice, poultry, pork and milk powder are all farm products Cuba needs.
While it’s been legal to export to Cuba since 2000, U.S. law still requires exporters to secure a line of credit with a foreign bank that has been approved by the U.S. Treasury Department. In addition, all visits to Cuba must be approved by the U.S. Commerce Department.