Virginia wine grape industry expanding

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has just announced the state’s Top Twenty agricultural commodities for the 2008 production year.

“This list shows the tremendous diversity of Virginia agriculture, which is just one of the reasons our products are in such demand in the global marketplace,” said Todd P. Haymore, VDACS Commissioner. “Most of the power house commodities have retained their top rankings, but there are some changes and one newcomer to the list, wine grapes.”

One of the biggest changes from 2007 was the movement of winter wheat. In 2007, the value of the wheat crop was not quite $65 million and it placed 12th in the rankings. In 2008, the value more than doubled and the crop leaped from No. 12 to No. 7. Calling it “one of best quality crops in memory,” VDACS’ Marketing Director Charles Green attributed the gain to several factors: a significant increase in harvested acres, yield increases from 64 bushels per acre in 2007 to 71 bushels in 2008, a climb in the average price, and poor wheat conditions in 2007 experienced in some major wheat producing countries. The average yearly price climbed from $5.78 a bushel to $6.10. Wheat producers in many places around the world experienced very difficult growing conditions, leading to a steep worldwide decline in production that resulted in a market price surge for all classes of wheat. Virginia producers responded to market conditions by planting a record number of acres in the fall of 2007 for harvesting in 2008.

Broilers, Virginia’s top commodity for several years, retained their first-place ranking and increased in value from almost $559 million in 2007 to more than $563 million in 2008.

Other changes include the flip-flopping of corn for grain and soybeans. In 2007 soybeans ranked No. 6 and corn for grain No. 8. In 2008, they switched spots, with corn at No. 6 and soybeans at No. 8. While the acreage of corn was down in 2008 from 2007, there was a significant increase in yield between the years. Average yield in 2008 was 108 bushels per acres, compared to 86 bushels per acre in 2007. Also, the yearly average price was higher in 2008 at $4.50 per bushel versus $4.39 a year earlier.

Tomatoes experienced a significant decline in 2008, likely due to the salmonella scare that occurred as farmers were making planting decisions and other factors. Because consumers were not buying tomatoes in the spring of 2008, farmers planted fewer acres and cash receipts dropped from $55 million in 2007 to $51 million in 2008.

New to the Top 20 in 2008 are wine grapes. With a cash receipt value of nearly $10.5 million, grapes displaced snap beans as the 20th most valuable crop in terms of cash receipts. In 2007 snap beans were worth $10.9 million, but the cash value in 2008 was not quite $6.3 million.

“Despite a global recession and the pressures that growers faced with high input costs, we had a good year in 2008,” said Haymore, “and data gathered by the Virginia Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service continue to show the strength and diversity of Virginia’s largest industry, agriculture.”

Click here for more facts about Virginia agriculture.

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