Virginia Agriculture 2014 | Brewing | Dairy Farming


Modern Farmer


Sponsored by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services // // 2014




5 Welcome Letter 6 Virginia Agriculture Overview

Animals & Livestock
10 Dairies Go Digital 14 Modern Swine & Poultry 18 Successful Seafood 22 Show Me the Horse Facts

Leading Industries
26 Open for Business

Crops, Plants & Forestry
28 Precision Agriculture 32 What’s Brewing in Virginia

Agricultural Education
36 Beyond Their Fences 42 Future Forests 44 Direct From the Farm
On the Cover Corn and soybean farmer Keith Dunn analyzes corn leaf color to determine its growth progress using a smartphone app on the Dunn family farm in Yale, Virginia.

22 18



A national voice – A unifying force

Project Manager LISA SCRAMLIN Marketing Director SARA QUINT Agribusiness Content Team RACHEL BERTONE, HANNAH PATTERSON, JESSY YANCEY Proofreading Manager RAVEN PETTY Contributing Writers KERI ANN BEAZELL, MATTHEW D. ERNST, CHARLYN FARGO, JILL CLAIR GENTRY, SUSAN HAYHURST, KEITH LORIA, KIM MADLOM, KAREN MAYER, JOHN MCBRYDE, JESSICA MOZO, JOANIE STIERS Senior Graphic Designers STACEY ALLIS, LAURA GALLAGHER, JAKE SHORES, KRIS SEXTON, VIKKI WILLIAMS Graphic Designers JACKIE CIULLA, LINDSEY HIGGINS, KACEY PASSMORE, MATT WEST Senior Photographers JEFF ADKINS, BRIAN MCCORD Staff Photographers MICHAEL CONTI, WENDY JO O’BARR, FRANK ORDOÑEZ, MICHAEL TEDESCO Color Imaging Technician ALISON HUNTER Ad Production Manager KATIE MIDDENDORF Ad Traffic Assistants KRYSTIN LEMMON, PATRICIA MOISAN Chairman GREG THURMAN President/Publisher BOB SCHWARTZMAN Executive Vice President RAY LANGEN Senior V.P./Agribusiness Publishing KIM NEWSOM HOLMBERG Senior V.P./Agribusiness Sales RHONDA GRAHAM Senior V.P./Operations CASEY HESTER Senior V.P./Journal Digital MICHAEL BARBER V.P./External Communications TEREE CARUTHERS V.P./Sales HERB HARPER Controller CHRIS DUDLEY Senior Accountant LISA OWENS Accounts Payable Coordinator MARIA MCFARLAND Accounts Receivable Coordinator DIANA GUZMAN Sales Support Coordinator CHRISTINA MORGAN IT Director DANIEL CANTRELL Web Creative Director ALLISON DAVIS Web Services Team DAVID DAY, NELS NOSEWORTHY, RICHARD STEVENS Photography Director JEFFREY S. OTTO Creative Services Director CHRISTINA CARDEN Creative Technology Analyst BECCA ARY Executive Secretary KRISTY GILES Human Resources Manager PEGGY BLAKE

Agriculture is Virginia’s No. 1 industry. Agricultural education implements inquiry-based learning in the classroom and career exploration through work study and supervised agricultural experience programs. Agricultural education develops leadership skills such as public speaking, teamwork, organization and civic service through the intracurricular implementation of FFA. Students who participate in agricultural education programs graduate with the skills necessary to become productive citizens who will succeed in postsecondary education or the workforce. Virginia agricultural education programs are led by more than 330 agriculture teachers in 205 high school and 62 middle school agricultural education programs, with more than 33,300 students enrolled in agricultural education courses statewide. 309 Paradise Ln. • Independence, VA 24348
Virginia Association of Agricultural Educators (VAAE) is a member of the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE), an organization created to serve as a national voice and unifying force for agriculture teachers across the United States.

Virginia Agriculture is published annually by Journal Communications Inc. and is distributed by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. For advertising information or to direct questions or comments about the magazine, contact Journal Communications Inc. at (615) 771-0080 or by email at

Acting Commissioner SANDRA J. ADAMS Director of Communications ELAINE LIDHOLM Special thanks to all Department staff for their support.

For more information about the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, contact: Elaine Lidholm 102 Governor Street, Richmond, VA 23219 804-786-7686 or email at No public funds were used in the publishing of this magazine. © Copyright 2014 Journal Communications Inc., 725 Cool Springs Blvd., Suite 400, Franklin, TN 37067, (615) 771-0080. All rights reserved. No portion of this magazine may be reproduced in whole or in part without written consent. Member Member The Association of Magazine Media Custom Content Council



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I am pleased to welcome you to the second edition of Virginia Agriculture, a magazine devoted to Virginia’s number one industry: agriculture. We were delighted with the success of our inaugural issue in January 2013 and are pleased to be back with the 2014 edition featuring new advertisers, stories of state-of-the-art technology and a look at more of the products that make up our very diverse industry. In our first issue, we highlighted the impressive history of agriculture and forestry in Virginia, which in so many ways is also the history of agriculture in the United States. In this edition we are highlighting Virginia’s role as a leader in technology. Within these pages you will find stories about robotic calf feeders on a dairy farm, innovations in the row crop industry and the latest in cattle management. I mentioned that Virginia is a very diverse state agriculturally. Not only do we have a range of products that includes poultry, beef, dairy, pork, seafood and aquaculture, row crops, forest products, fruits and vegetables, wine, cotton, peanuts, specialty crops and more, but our craft breweries and cideries are growing at a dramatic rate. We even have several entrepreneurs who are making mead, the thousandsyear-old drink made from honey. These enterprises not only provide refreshment for consumers, but new production opportunities for farmers and orchardists as well. From the seashore to the mountains, from the urban corridors to the most remote regions, we have tried to give a further glimpse of all aspects of Virginia agriculture in this year’s issue. It will take us some time to include even the major agricultural products and industries in Virginia, but I think that is part of the success of the industry here. Virginia’s strength lies in many things – our work force, varied climate zones, topography, strategic location on the East Coast and diversified portfolio of outstanding farm and forest products. I hope you enjoy this second issue with its emphasis on technology on the farm and in agricultural processing, as well as innovation in Virginia’s educational institutions and the products and services that we offer. Sincerely,

Todd P. Haymore Secretary of Agriculture & Forestry P.S. If you would like additional copies to pass on to your friends and co-workers, please contact

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Virginia Agriculture
A glimpse into Virginia’s diverse agricultural industry
region has unique temperature, soil and rainfall. Broilers, cattle and calves, dairy products, turkeys and chicken eggs are some of the top livestock-related commodities in Virginia. Broilers are the biggest moneymaker, with chicken meat ranked No. 2 for agricultural exports. Virginia ham and pork are other important products, known worldwide. In fact, only hams produced in Smithfield, Va., are allowed to be called Smithfield hams. In addition to the widely produced crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat, wine grapes are increasing in popularity. As of 2012, Virginia was home to more than 230 wineries and about 3,000 acres of vineyards. This expanding commodity not only generates sales, but also draws tourists to the bucolic vineyards for tastings and other events. Another growth area in Virginia is in the tobacco industry. With new technological developments, this historic crop is ranked 4th in the nation and generates $81 million from unprocessed leaves alone. The balance of tradition and innovation has allowed Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industry to flourish. With an emphasis on land preservation and the expansion of agritourism, this $70 billion industry is constantly evolving. – Hannah Patterson Virginia offers a variety of opportunities for producers, processors and consumers. Virginia agriculture employs a total of 500,000 Virginians annually; each job in turn supports 1.5 jobs somewhere else in the state’s economy. Land preservation is a main priority. Farmland covers 32 percent of the state or 7.9 million acres. This land consists of 46,000 farms with an average size of 171 acres. Roughly 87 percent of the farms are privately owned by individuals or families. The Office of Farmland Preservation (OFP) administers the Virginia Century Farm Program, which recognizes and honors farms that have been in operation by the same family for at least 100 consecutive years. Currently there are 1,275 registered farms. Since 2008, OFP has allocated $7.65 million in state matching funds to local governments for local purchase of development rights programs to help protect farmland. An additional $123,410 has been allocated to Virginia Cooperative Extension for farm transition workshops during this timeframe. Virginia’s agricultural industry is as diverse as the climate regions found within the state. Made up of Tidewater, Piedmont, Northern Virginia, Western Mountain and Southwestern Mountain, each

About 90 percent of Virginia farms are owned and operated by individuals or families.



What’s Online
Access more agriculture facts at



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In 2012, Virginia had a record-setting year for agriculture and forestry exports, totaling $2.6 billion.

$26.5 million $6 million



Virginia is ranked nationally in these commodities:









Virginia’s top commodities based on cash receipts
Virginia ranked No. 7 in the nation for turkey production and earned $ 324 million in 2012. Virginia broilers (chickens used for meat) generated $ 649 million in 2012 and were the No. 1 agriculture commodity.

On Top

The No. 3 commodity in Virginia produced $ 358 million in cash receipts in 2012. In 2012, Virginia generated $ 91 million in egg production.

Wheat earned $109 million in 2012.

The No. 10 commodity earned $109 million in 2012.

Cattle and calves earned $434 million in 2012.

Soybeans generated $302 million in 2012 and was the No. 1 ag export in the state.

Primarily grown for grain, corn generated $212 million in 2012.

This diverse category generated $272 million and accounts for almost 8 percent of agricultural cash receipts in 2012.

Staff Illustration by Kris Sexton




is produced by the state’s nearly 700 dairy farms. Some 96,000 dairy cows live on these multigenerational farms, which embrace innovative and efficient technologies. “More than 200 million gallons of milk were produced last year in the state,” says Eric Paulson, the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association executive director. “And our dairy production can help feed the 50 percent of the U.S. population that lives within a 500-mile drive of Richmond. The U.S. milk system is viewed by other countries as an extremely safe food supply. People worldwide want our milk and milk products.” Dairy production, a key part of Virginia’s agriculture portfolio, ranks third in cash receipts at $358 million in 2012. Paulson is passionate about the value and integrity of the state’s dairy industry. “The industry is very focused because people have to have trust in their farmers. We produce the food people want, it’s a natural product, and penny for penny it’s the most nutritious beverage with energy, protein, vitamins and minerals already built in.” Milking a cow using a bucket and a three-legged stool isn’t the norm any longer. Many dairies have gone to various

Story by Susan Hayhurst

Virginia dairy industry moves milk production into the 21st century


levels of mechanization, even using a robotic milking system that allows a cow to be milked on her own schedule – whenever she feels the need to milk or eat. The Leech family of Ingleside Dairy Farm in Lexington was the first in the state to go robotic. “We were looking to involve our adult children, Beau and Jennifer, in the dairy operation in 2009 when the milk prices crashed,” Linda Leech says. “We debated whether to upgrade the milking parlor and expand the herd, so we visited 25 different dairies in the U.S. and Canada. We retrofitted our freestyle barns and added the A-4 Lely robotic milking system.” Since its implementation in February 2012, the system has provided substantial benefits. A robotic system completely manages the dairy herd through its monitoring. “It knows more about an individual cow than if we stood there 24 hours a day watching her,” Leech says. “The milk’s health and the cow’s activity are all tracked. The specific care of our 240-cow herd allows us to now attend events where we couldn’t before, and we can focus more acutely on the cows’ comfort.” Waynesboro’s fourth-generation dairy farmers Kevin, Daniel, Winston and Wilmer Phillips of North Point Farms aren’t afraid to try new things when it comes to Staff Photos by Michael Conti





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Cows wear a remote collar that communicates health and activity data to various robots at the Leech Family Dairy in Lexington.



efficiency and cattle care. Their 900 cows, spread between three dairy sites, are milked three times daily. “We want to produce high-quality products for consumers, and our cows get whatever they want to be healthy and efficient,” Kevin says. “They wear pedometers to track their mobility, and a Bella Ag sensor that tracks abnormal temperatures. A Dairy Cheq MilkGuard device also monitors the milk-cooling equipment.” VanDerHyde Dairy in Chatham became the first in Virginia to install carousel milking parlors, cattle identification programs and a Wi-Fi system to help effectively track its 1,100 cattle. What’s more, owner Roy VanDerHyde also sought to maximize the dairy’s end product – manure. “I always look to technology to help our income, so building an anaerobic digester made sense,” he says. “Instead of putting the cows’ manure in holding ponds where it’s only spread twice a year on fields, the 30,000 gallons per day is placed in the digester.” The resulting product, through a series of processes, results in 300,000 kilowatts of electricity sold to Dominion, a Richmond-based electric company, by VanDerHyde’s private company, Dairy Energy Inc. “Maximizing our resources while providing optimum cattle care is what we’re all about,” VanDerHyde says.


Cows being milked using robotic technology, which also tests milk to ensure product health and safety at the Leech Family Dairy.

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Beef of the Future
Technological innovations are changing the landscape of the beef industry


he Virginia beef industry constantly adapts to technological advancements and new best practices. In 2012, beef cow numbers increased to 686,000 head, up 22,000 over the previous year. In 2012, cattle and calves were the second-highest earning commodity, with $434 million in cash receipts. This accounted for 12.1 percent of total receipts from agricultural commodities. Steve Hopkins with Virginia Cooperative Extension educates area farmers about the Cow Sense Management software, a herd management tool. Hopkins believes this program will be a vast improvement on existing herd management practices. “It’s a record-keeping program,” Hopkins says. “I have a lot of producers still keeping records in Excel spreadsheets and handwritten copies.” Hopkins offered a beef management course and hosted a training session last year with a few farmers in a small group setting. “Farmers need to use whatever tools they have available to make wise decisions,” Hopkins says. “With the increased value of the products we sell and increased input cost, mistakes are very costly.” Not only is the Cow Sense Management program an efficient way to store information, it also gives farmers insight into their herds. “The biggest advantage is being able to make more accurate culling decisions to advance your herd,” Hopkins says. Electronic ear tags may be used in combination with the

management software, allowing producers – as well as the state veterinarian’s office – to keep track of individual cattle. “The use of the electronic ear tags (EID) has dramatically changed the way we are working these calves and sorting them,” Hopkins says. “You can take a reader and transfer the animal’s ID into a computer.” Using the USDA 840 EID tags will enable the State Veterinarian’s office to determine the original source of an animal and respond quickly to any food safety threats. “Certainly if we had a disease outbreak, we would be able to track the animal and keep the disease outbreak small. The

tagging of animals will assist the state vets in determining the source of an animal,” Hopkins says. “From an economic standpoint, disease tracking keeps prices down for the consumer.” Cow Sense Management software is only one of the programs Hopkins has worked with, but he says there are other record keeping programs that will also work well. Ultimately he stresses the importance of good record-keeping. Hopkins looks to the future and more technological innovations to improve the Virginia beef industry. “It’s a work in progress,” he says. “It’s a learning curve.” – Hannah Patterson




Swine Poultry
Story by Keri Ann Beazell





More efficient farming leads to better animal care
resulting from scientific research and development, combined with farmers’ dedication to excellent husbandry practices, make Virginia’s swine and poultry farms more efficient and productive than ever. Here’s a closer look at what’s being done in each industry: As the world’s largest producer of pork products, Murphy-Brown, LLC – a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., with an eastern division located in Waverly – places animal care as a top priority, upholding these standards when working with contracted hog farmers throughout the state. “Murphy-Brown and Smithfield Foods have an unwavering commitment to animal well-being. It is ingrained into our culture to take care of our animals and ensure that every day all of our animals are safe, comfortable and healthy,” says Don Butler, vice president of government relations and public affairs, and chair of Murphy-Brown’s Animal Care Committee. When it comes to housing, piglets and hogs are moved from barn to barn so that they have ample room to grow. Within each barn, extensive control boards and heat sensors monitor and maintain the temperature at all times. These sensors notify farm workers immediately if conditions in the facility change.


Spread: Modern swine facilities protect animals like piglets (pictured above) from disease, predators and severe weather.

Above: Farmers use technology to adjust poultry house temperatures to ensure bird comfort and monitor bird health. Right: Technological advancements allow birds access to fresh, clean water and food.




“We try to provide the optimum environment for the pigs inside the barns regardless of the climate or what time of year it is,” Butler says. For the comfort and care of pregnant sows, Murphy-Brown announced in January 2007 a “free access” or group housing arrangement and is phasing out individual gestation stalls. Working together with Dr. Temple Grandin, a prominent animal behavior expert for the livestock industry, the company developed an in-house care program that reduces stress through trained, regular handling. Pigs are observed daily, and antibiotics are used only for treating or preventing disease – never for growth purposes. Additionally, feed is tailored for different stages of life so nutritional needs are always met through quality ingredients. The company’s production success illustrates that well-managed care is the best formula for raising healthy hogs.

Everything Rockingham County poultry farmer Oren Heatwole does is for the benefit of the birds. “We give them the best care, the best water and the best feed in order to ensure their health and welfare,” Heatwole says. Housing is one key area to ensure bird comfort. Computers are constantly monitoring the poultry house temperature to make sure the houses don’t get too hot during the day or cold at night. Additional technologies include cool cells, misters, stir fans and improved ventilation through attic inlets, which transfer warm air to the living area of the poultry house. Computerized sensors also alert personnel if a power outage should occur. Technology controls feed and water, which also improves efficiency. Special waterers deliver fresh, clean water to birds whenever the chicken desires. These systems Staff Photos by Brian McCord




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• More than 1,100 family farms • Directly and indirectly supporting nearly 42,000 jobs in Virginia • Producing an affordable, wholesome source of protein to help meet growing nutritional requirements in the U.S. and around the world • Contributing more than $8 billion to Virginia’s economy
also reduce spillage to keep bedding dry. Other technologies include sending information directly to a smartphone to provide instant growth progress information. “We have a very controlled environment,” Heatwole says. “Because we keep birds free range within a house, we are able to protect them against diseases.” By utilizing modern poultry housing, Heatwole has “never had to treat a bird with antibiotics.” Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation, confirms that “these efficiencies are the result of scientific advancements in breeding and nutrition. They are also the result of how farmers are using modern barns or houses with the latest technology.” With modern housing and management practices, farmers produce pork and chicken more efficiently while keeping animals safe and comfortable.

Virginia Poultry Federation members are proud to produce the finest poultry products anywhere and doing so in harmony with Virginia’s natural resources.
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Story by Joanie Stiers

Virginia aquaculture industry continues to grow
started harvesting shellfish in 1895. Now, more than 115 years later, the family raises the most littleneck clams of any aquaculture business in the United States – and possibly the world. And they are rapidly becoming one of the largest producers of farm-raised oysters on the East Coast. It was about a half century ago when visionary Chad Ballard Sr. saw the future in farm-raised fish and other aquatic species, known as aquaculture. “He realized Mother Nature would not keep up with supply and

demand and that aquaculture would be the way of the future,” says Ron Crumb, vice president of Ballard Fish & Oyster Company. Today the Ballard family directly employs 150 people at its hatcheries, nurseries and packaging facilities. The family estimates an additional 150 people have jobs through their cooperative growing relationships. The company has positioned itself to maintain its leadership in the mature clam market and serve an increasing demand for oysters. Virginia’s aquaculture industry continues to grow and add significant value to the state’s fish

A worker uses a water rake to harvest clam sea beds at Ballard Fish & Oyster Company in Northampton County.



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Staff Photos by Michael Conti



Clams are sorted at the Ballard Fish & Oyster Company in Cheriton, Virginia.

Freshwater aquaculture is a sustainable system. We only borrow the water; we don’t  use it up.


and seafood marketplace. Virginia aquaculture cash receipts in 2011 totaled $58 million, ranking fourteenth among the state’s agriculture commodities. Aquaculture works well in Virginia, says Dr. Brian Nerrie, Virginia State University aquaculture specialist. It diversifies the agricultural economy and provides environmental benefits. “Virginia is blessed with fairly good aquatic resources, and aquaculture fits in well with that,” he says. “Freshwater aquaculture is a sustainable system. We only borrow the water; we don’t use it up. It can be restored or recirculated or can be used to irrigate other crops. It is a way to get production out of an underutilized resource.” Virginia’s most common aquaculture species include clams, oysters, tilapia and catfish, Nerrie says. They grow in a variety of environments best suited for the species, from Virginia’s coastal shellfish farms to mountainous cold-water trout culture areas. Production systems vary, too,

from completely enclosed intensive culture systems to freshwater raceways. Aquaculture farmers face some industry challenges, yet the advantages show tremendous opportunity. Aquaculture can offer an alternative or additional income to many traditional crops, boosts the local economy and provides a quality product for Virginia dinner tables, says Lynn Blackwood, chairman of the Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network. “It supports Virginia agriculture and Virginia farms as opposed to overseas farms,” he says. “It improves our economy to buy locally, and there is a real quality difference.” The industry has witnessed a large movement toward value-added products, Nerrie says. Companies now focus on ways to make the end product more desirable to the consumer. The Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network, which includes about 20 farmers, plans to form a partnership of a commercial kitchen and state-ofthe-art processing facility in southern Virginia. This would allow the



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Virginia Oysters
The number of aquacultured market oysters sold by Virginia growers has seen steady growth. 23.3 16.9 MILLION 12.6 9.8 3.1 0.8 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 4.8


Top Five Aquaculture Counties by Number of Operations
1. Northampton: 31 2. Accomack: 27 3. York: 9 4. Mathews: 8 5. Smyth: 8


Source: Virginia Shellfish Aquaculture Situation and Outlook Report, 2013

Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2007 Census Data

Virginia’s Top Aquaculture Counties by Product Value
1. Northampton: $30.7 million • 2. Accomack: $4 million • 3. Wythe: $703,000 • 4. Smyth: $565,000 • 5. York: $460,000
Source: National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2007 Census Data

cooperative to use quality fillets in marketable, easy-to-use recipes. Today, the network’s fish enter specialty markets, including highend farmers’ markets, restaurants and Internet sales within Virginia. Future products may include catfish and shrimp chowder, smoked rainbow trout and dips. With FDA acceptance, the network would be capable of shipping across state lines. Likewise, Ballard Fish & Oyster Company beefed up its labor force and equipment to meet demands for small-pack products that are coolerready, Crumb says. The company often harvests and ships their shellfish products the same day. This puts Virginia-fresh seafood on Americans’ plates within 24 hours of harvest.

What’s Online
See more photos of Virginia aquaculture at






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Show Me the
Horse Facts
Story by Charlyn Fargo top horses and the bottom horses,” says Bette Brand of Roanoke, who started the project. “Our vision was to set up a database that included all horses. And it’s not just about selling; it’s also in case of a disaster.” The site will be used as an outlet to disperse emergency information in the event of a hurricane or other natural disaster when horse owners may need to shelter animals off site. She hopes to have 2,000 horses registered in the database within the first year. “If you’re looking for a specific horse, breed or discipline, we want to have that one place to look,” Brand says. The fact-based site uses show records to provide information about horses, rather than opinions, and has videos and photos of horses.

The Virginia Horse Project allows breeders to easily share data about their animals
one-stop horse shopping, it just got a little easier. The Virginia Horse project is a way of connecting buyers with the right horse. Virginia’s booming horse industry, valued at $1.2 billion, is composed of more than 200,000 horses. Rather than having potential buyers run from farm to farm, the industry wants to have easy access to farms. The Virginia Horse project developed the website as a resource for horse seekers to get factual data – not just owner descriptions – and it will have links to breed registries, as well as show and racing records. “We decided what the industry needed was a way to promote both


The horse industry in Virginia generates $65.3 million in state and local taxes.

The Virginia Horse project website allows visitors to search for Hunter Jumper horses like the one pictured left.




Staff Photos by Michael Conti


The Virginia Horse Project website,, is a fact-based resource for horse seekers.



“Someone might say a horse is a good trail horse, but that’s an opinion,” Brand says. “So we wouldn’t allow that. We want the facts to stand on their own.” She hopes that a prospective buyer will be able to search the site by location, ZIP code, gender, age, breeding or type of horse. Nearly all of the work in getting to this point has been volunteer. Recently, the group received a $5,000 grant from the Virginia Horse Industry Board to help promote the site and introduce it to the public. The group got its start working to improve legislation that would help horse owners.

A girl pets a horse at Oakland Heights Farm in Gordonsville, Virginia.



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“We were looking into fencing laws eight to 10 years ago,” says Sally Lamb of Oakland Heights Farm in Gordonsville. Lamb is a Virginia Horse Council board member and one of the visionaries for the project. “We were adjusting laws to make them better for horse owners, and it grew into this council.” “This project is a lot bigger than I imagined,” Lamb says. “We’re hoping if you look in an area like Middleburg, you may see 36,000 horses in a group, find the ones for sale, then find the vets, farriers, riding school teachers – everything you need.” The Virginia project may serve as a model for other states as well. “No other state has ever offered this type of thing,” Lamb says.

What’s Online
Find out more about horses in Virginia at
The Virginia Horse Project website lists trail riding horses, similar to the ones seen at Oakland Heights Farm.




Open for Business
Story by John McBryde

International offices help grow Virginia’s agricultural exports
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products since the early settler John Rolfe shipped his first crop of tobacco to England back in 1612, but the state’s international market has never seen times like today. With countries like China and Canada leading the way, Virginia reached unprecedented levels in agricultural exports for 2012, breaking the previous record from 2011 by almost 12 percent. The state shipped $2.61 billion of products to countries outside the United States, with China accounting for $638 million (an increase of nearly 230 percent in just two years) and Canada totaling $205 million. Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, Morocco was third with around $139 million in goods purchased. Other leading countries included Switzerland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Venezuela and Cuba. Virginia has a wide range of agricultural products to export, including soybeans, chicken meat, wood products, unmanufactured leaf tobacco, a variety of grains, pork, animal feed, cotton, seafood and raw peanuts, among others.

In terms of its economic impact, Virginia’s export industry generates approximately $1.40 in-state for every $1 shipped out, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS). This means revenue for farmers and producers, as well as processors, ports and others along the business chain. “Virginia has been very proactive in promoting exports out of the state,” says John Cassidy, senior vice president of Perdue Grain and Oilseed, a company that owns and operates a major deepwater export terminal in Chesapeake, Virginia. Perdue works closely with officials from VDACS in international marketing to maximize the export of soybean and grain using their Virginia terminal. “Our first mutual project was arranging to export soybeans and soybean meal to Cuba,” Cassidy adds, “and we’ve been doing that now for close to 10 years. That was through the very strong efforts of both the previous governors and the department of agriculture. They [VDACS] continue to visit Cuba, as do we, in order to promote not only exports of soybean products but various other products from Virginia such as wine and apples.” But in addition to making strategic and timely visits to various countries, VDACS is expanding its export efforts by opening regional offices in key marketplaces around the world. The department has had an office in Hong Kong for a number of years, where David Wong resides as the representative for Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries in the Asia Pacific region. The department has recently opened an office in Shanghai as well. The representation in China helped business there for Perdue Grain and Oilseed, according to Cassidy. A subsidiary of Perdue Agribusiness Inc., Perdue Grain and Oilseed produces and sells feed-grade soybean meals, pelleted soy hulls and crude soy oils. It entered into an agreement fostered by Virginia’s governor with a Chinese company called Dandong. “That is very significant in the amount of soybeans we’ve moved out of our facility and to China,” Cassidy says. “This is our third year, and each year the volume has increased in terms of the soybeans we’re shipping.” Ted Horton represents VDACS exports from his office just outside of London, covering European markets. Many countries in Europe import seafood from Virginia, and Horton has a background working with seafood products. The continent is also increasing its imports of Virginia wood pellets that are used as a source for sustainable energy. In addition, the department has an affiliate office in St. Petersburg, Russia, a country that imports live cattle and apples from the state. A representative is covering Latin American countries from an office in Mexico and a satellite office in Costa Rica. In November of 2013 someone was added in Canada as well, a market that’s ideal not only for refrigerated or frozen products but also fresh produce and hardwood lumber from Virginia.





2012 was a record year for Virginia agricultural and forestry exports, with a nearly 12 percent increase over the last record year in 2011.


Top five export countries are:
1. China $638 MILLION

2. Canada $205 MILLION

3. Morocco $139 MILLION

4. Switzerland $122 MILLION

5. Turkey $94 MILLION

Staff Illustration by Kris Sexton




Story by Kim Madlom


Staff Photos by Michael Conti

Virginia farmers use technology to produce crops, protect land


father, Mac, rode in a GPS-controlled combine they talked about the changes they have seen in agriculture over the past two decades. “It’s almost incomprehensible,” says Dunn, owner of Oak Hill Farms near Yale. “Five years ago there was no auto-steer, and now we can drive the tractor within a half-inch accuracy. We can apply fertilizer with greater precision. We can do grid sampling and zone sampling of the soil and add the exact amount of the right type of nutrients on each acre of land for the crop we plan to raise. We are more efficient than ever.” These days the Dunns use a high-tech planter to put those crops in the ground on their 1,500 acre farm. They plant seeds at record speeds and with record precision. A GPS device inside the tractor means the rows are straight and prevents seeds from being planted in sections of the field twice as the machine makes its turns – saving both time and money. William “Sparky” Crossman at Laurel Springs Farm in Mount Holly

also praises the accuracy of the state-of-the-art agriculture equipment. “At $275 for a 50-pound bag of corn for planting, it’s important we don’t plant the same area twice,” Crossman says. “The accuracy of today’s technology makes sure that doesn’t happen.” The technology also helps ensure every acre is producing at maximum capacity, he says. “GPS mapping helps us identify where we aren’t getting the yield we expect,” Crossman says. “Then we can use a handheld GPS to go to those spots and find out whether the problem is the soil type, the pH or something else. We can address the problem and increase the yield.” Laurel Springs and Oak Hill Farms grow corn, soybeans and wheat – three of Virginia’s top four crops. The latest figures for Virginia put cash receipts at $212 million for corn, $302 million for soybeans and $109 million for wheat. Oak Hill also grows cotton, which generated $69 million in cash receipts for Virginia in 2012.

Keith Dunn harvests defoliated milo using a GPS-guided combine at the Dunn family farm near Yale.



The advanced GPS and internal monitoring system of Keith Dunn’s combine used to harvest milo at the family farm in Sussex County.

Both Laurel Springs and Oak Hill use crop sprayers with the same precision technology as the planters. “We can program the sprayer for the height we want, say 25 inches above the soybeans, and it will be accurate from tip to tip of the boom with a 100-foot swath,” Dunn says. “The computer and sensors on the boom won’t let the sprayer overlap. If the boom swings over an area already sprayed, the computer will shut that section of the sprayer down. That saves money and provides better care for the crops.” Crossman says the technology available has made plowing the fields a thing of the past. “We do what’s known as vertical tillage,” he says. “We use a tool that goes through the field and slices the corn stalk and chops it up, creating a mulch and preventing erosion.” The same process happens with the wheat and soybeans, and then it all begins again with corn – each time enriching the soil. That method saves trips across the field, fuel and fertilizer, and the result is a richer soil that holds moisture. A fifth-generation farmer, Crossman says the technology he incorporates today is very different from that used by his ancestors. “The idealistic picture of a farmer used to be a guy in bib overalls and a straw hat,” he says. “Farmers are using computers and satellites to grow and manage crops, and while the technology can be expensive initially, it brings an efficiency to the farm that makes it worth it.” Dunn agrees. “We’re raising more food with less waste and more protection to the environment,” he says. “That’s good for farmers, for the land and for the consumers.” Dunn is a seventh-generation farmer working the same land worked by his family since the late 1600s. He embraces both history and the future. He uses social media to promote agriculture in an effort to better connect his friends, family and community about how and where food is grown. He also uses his social connections to share information with other farmers.



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The Future Burns Bright
irginia remains one of the top tobacco-producing states and ranks fourth in the country in the export of tobacco. Emerging technologies continue to create new opportunities for tobacco use and production. “We had farm sales of $109 million in 2012, with a total impact on local economies of approximately $229 million,” says David Reed, extension agronomist at Virginia Tech’s Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center. Special attention to cultivation, topping and sucker control, harvest and market preparation are the hallmark of Virginia tobacco growers. A world shortage of tobacco has created flourishing markets for Virginia tobacco in Asian and European countries, especially China. “We presently have around 400 flue-cured farmers, maybe 75 dark fire-cured tobacco farmers, and perhaps as many as 1,000 burley growers in southwest Virginia,” Reed says. “Flue-cured tobacco represents approximately 90 percent of the tobacco acreage grown, with most substantially increasing their acreage following the buyout of the federal tobacco program.” Bright leaf, or flue-cured tobacco, is cured for six to 10 days by a controlled heating process that converts starches to sugars, creating a “sweet” flavor. In contrast, burley tobacco is

Technology introduces new opportunities for the Virginia tobacco industry


air-cured by hanging the plant on wooden sticks in a barn with no supplemental heat and takes about eight to 10 weeks. “Flue-cured growers have embraced mechanization to reduce the labor required to grow tobacco,” Reed says. “This range [includes] greenhouse transplant production, harvesting, the handling of the green leaf going into the curing barns, processing the cured leaf from the barn and how the tobacco is prepared for marketing.” New technologies such as GPSassisted application of pesticides and fertilizers, conservation tillage and forms of computer automation are enabling growers to produce a

higher-caliber product. Leaf grading and sorting is also assisted by new technology and ensures the highest-quality tobacco. “Tobacco barns are now being controlled by automatic curing control systems, and some growers have wireless monitoring, allowing them to check barns on iPads and smart phones,” Reed says. “Hopefully new technologies will continue to develop to make the curing of flue-cured tobacco much more energy-efficient and automated.” With innovations by industry experts and a welcoming global market, the future of Virginia tobacco looks promising. – Hannah Patterson




Brewing in
Breweries, cideries support niche ag markets


valuable to the agriculturalist, as it enables him to put his superfluous grain into a form which will bear long transportation to markets to which the raw material could never get,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1804. In today’s Virginia, craft breweries and cideries are multiplying, quenching consumer thirst for local drinks. And growth in the local beverage sector means opportunity for some Virginia farms to produce grain, apples, hops and other local ingredients consumers crave. “We don’t sell our beer more than 50 miles from where it’s made,” says Jeff Fitzpatrick, who opened Blue & Gray Brewing Co., in Fredericksburg, in 2002. Businesses like his have tapped into craft beer demand, steady since the 1980s. Consumers now crave craft beers made with local or regional grains. In 2013, Fitzpatrick used Virginia-grown malted barley to brew some 40-keg, seasonal batches. “That beer was very, very well-received,” he says. To make malt, grain is soaked in water. That stimulates sprouting that converts the grain’s starches into the fermentable sugars later consumed by yeast. The soaked grain is then

Story by Matthew D. Ernst

dried, the tiny sprouts removed before shipment to brewers. But demand for local beverage ingredients can create potential price premiums for production in other areas. “Farmers need to be able to financially justify using the land to grow a different crop, or sometimes even a different variety of the same crop,” explains Gordon Groover, a Virginia Tech agricultural economist. Groover co-authored a farm budget analysis in 2013 for growing hard cider apple varieties in Virginia. Hard cider can be made from multipurpose apple varieties, like Winesap and Stayman. Specialized hard cider varieties of apples, like Black Twig and Sheepnose, have higher acid and tannin contents. “Hard cider [apple] varieties are good for making cider, but cannot be sold into any other component of the apple market,” Groover says. Cideries are already sourcing many apples in-state. “Just about all of our cider is made with Virginia apples,” says Courtney Mailey, who uses mostly heirloom varieties at Richmond’s Blue Bee Cidery. Sales in the cidery’s first year, she says, doubled her expectations. Local farms can also benefit from brewery by-products, says Taylor Staff Photos by Michael Conti



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Freshly brewed beer at Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton.

Virginia barley and other grains are used to make beer.

Spent grain, the mash leftover after sugars and proteins have been extracted from the grain, is removed as part of the beer brewing process. This spent grain is fed to more than 150 local cattle.



Hops used in various beer varieties at Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton.

Smack, master brewer at Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton. “Over 150 local cattle are raised almost entirely on our spent grain,” he says. Brewers’ spent grains remain after brewers make “wort,” the liquid extraction of the grain’s sugars produced when malted grain is mixed with hot water. Breweries also seek Virginiagrown hops, a plant adding “bitter” flavor and aroma to beer. Blue Mountain grows its own; it’s also in the Old Dominion Hops Cooperative, a group of farmers and brewers seeking to establish local production and markets. At Hardywood Brewery, in Richmond, hops rhizomes are distributed for community members to grow, harvest and bring back for a community brew. With local demand strong, craft breweries are not ignoring the benefit to brewing noted by Jefferson: shipping a crop that won’t spoil. “Breweries like Starr Hill, Blue Mountain and others have reached up and down the Atlantic coast,” Smack says. “In fact, we just sent a load of beer to Denmark!”



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Dynamic Duo
ew advancements in technology related to peanuts and cotton are taking both crops successfully into the future. Farmers have found great agronomic success rotating the two crops for many years, but with new seed and harvest technology they are finding even greater benefits. Innovation in seed variety technology for peanuts and cotton helps grow stronger plants that will withstand the elements. “We choose varieties that will give us the highest yields, but over the years I have seen a difference in the amount of stress the plants can withstand,” says Clay Lowe, a cotton and peanut farmer from Wakefield, Va. Plant stress can come from extreme weather conditions, including both drought and too much rain. “For cotton we choose some varieties that mature earlier and some that mature later, so if we don’t have ideal weather we won’t see as drastic declines in our yields.” Technologies in seed varieties also help defend the plant against other stresses. “New diseaseresistant peanut varieties mean that we don’t have to fumigate, which saves us from having to apply chemicals to the soil,” says JW Jones, a peanut and cotton farmer from Windsor. “We are always looking at new varieties that will increase yield and offer the best quality, while staying environmentally conscious.” Seed traits not only help the farmer, but also offer great benefit to end consumers. While peanuts have always been a healthy source of important fats, high-oleic varieties will make them even

Peanut and cotton technology provides many benefits



healthier. The new high-oleic varieties coming down the pipeline will increase the shelf life of Virginia’s in-shell peanuts and provide consumers with significantly improved hearthealthy oil content of their snack peanuts. Modern harvesting technology saves farmers valuable time, labor and fuel. “With our old cotton harvesting system, it took us about four gallons of fuel to pick an acre. Now it takes us about 2.5 gallons,” says Lowe, who is also the chair of the Virginia Cotton Board. “That fuel savings makes a big difference over the course of a harvest.” The fuel savings come from using less equipment with Lowe’s new baler picker. In the past, Lowe would have to run three pieces of equipment: a cotton picker, a tractor with a cotton boll buggy to transport cotton from the picker to the module builder and a tractor to provide power to the module builder. Now Lowe is able to use just one piece of equipment. The new baler picker picks the cotton, makes large round bales and holds a finished



bale until Lowe is ready to deposit it at the edge of the field. “I probably save about five to 10 minutes per acre with the new system, which can really start to add up over all our cotton acres,” Lowe says. Faster harvest has many benefits. “Not only does the new picker save on fuel, but we also save time and use less labor,” Lowe says. “If mature cotton stays in the field too long, we start to lose quality, and even worse, run the risk of losing the crop to adverse weather.” Peanut farmers also see great innovation during harvest. When peanuts are harvested they must be dried to avoid storage issues that can arise from too much moisture in the load of peanuts. In the past, farmers used small drying trailers to get peanuts to optimal moisture levels, but many farmers are moving toward large tractor-trailer dryers. New systems save time by drying more peanuts at once, while simultaneously reducing the number of farm vehicles on the road. With these new innovations, farmers can produce these staple crops more efficiently, while delivering better products to buyers and keeping the environment safer.



Beyond Their Fences
Story by Jessica Mozo


VALOR challenges agriculture professionals to take a more active role in the industry



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Rockville received an invitation in the mail saying he was nominated for a new Virginia Tech program called Virginia Agriculture Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR), he had no idea his life was about to change. “I can’t say enough about how much VALOR has done for me,” says Isbell, who was accepted into the inaugural class of the two-year program in September 2012 and will graduate from it in July 2014. “I have seen a remarkable difference in myself because of VALOR, that others have noticed. I’ve become more involved in my community and in issues facing the agriculture

industry, and it has helped me make decisions that have benefited our business.” Isbell is co-owner of Keenbell Farm, which his grandfather started in 1951. Keenbell Farm produces grass-fed beef, pastured pork, free-range chickens and eggs for about 500 customers who buy from them weekly. Isbell was one of 10 adults in Virginia agriculture positions who made up the VALOR class, a leadership program Virginia Tech started to help adults in agriculture develop their communication, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. It also broadens

their knowledge of global agriculture with trips to the Midwest, Capitol Hill and abroad. VALOR fellows meet 12 times over two years for three-day sessions and longer trips that give them a behindthe-scenes look at agriculture. “VALOR is impacting people in very deep ways – it has value you can’t find in a printed brochure,” says Megan Seibel, director of VALOR. “It’s a program that’s for the ag industry and owned by the ag industry. There is a spectrum of people in agriculture across Virginia, and we’re bringing them together and challenging them to look at things from a different perspective.

Left: Ian Heatwole of Weyers Cave is also in the inaugural VALOR class. He is managing partner of Fox Run Farms in Weyers Cave.

Staff Photos by Michael Conti



They’re approaching their employees differently, scheduling meetings with their town council person to discuss issues and even considering running for office.” Nine VALOR sessions take place at agricultural sites across Virginia to demonstrate how each piece of the agricultural industry fits together. Another session takes place in Washington, D.C., allowing VALOR fellows to discuss agricultural issues with legislators firsthand. In September 2013, the group traveled to Indiana, Illinois and

Michigan, making stops at farming operations, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the National FFA Headquarters, and staying with farm families. In 2014, they will take a two-week trip to Argentina to visit farms and talk with producers about how world markets influence their agricultural practices. “As farmers, we tend to worry about things when they affect us, but we need to look beyond our own fences and see that there’s more to agriculture than what we do,” Isbell says. “We have to work with people

with opposing views and learn to find common ground. Less than 2 percent of our population identifies themselves as farmers, so if we don’t team together, other people are going to make decisions for us.” Matt Hickey is another VALOR fellow who owns Classic Carriage in Staunton and raises beef cattle. He says the greatest benefit of the program is the networking opportunities. “We meet industry leaders and learn from their successes and failures,” Hickey says. “We’re

When Ian Heatwole is not learning about leadership and modern agriculture he can be found at Fox Run Farms (pictured below) in Augusta County.



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accomplishing our goal of making positive changes in agriculture. We’re putting ourselves in sometimes uncomfortable situations to open dialogues so farmers have a place at the table.” For more information on VALOR, including application information, visit

High Honor
Each year at the National FFA Convention, six students are elected by delegates to represent the organization as National FFA officers: president, secretary and vice presidents representing the Central, Southern, Eastern and Western regions of the country. Brian Walsh of Woodstock, Virginia was elected 2013-2014 National FFA President November 2, 2012. It has been nearly 35 years since a Virginian has held that same position. He served as 2011-2012 Virginia State FFA President before running for national office. “As a national officer, I aspire to aid in helping our members find, create and live out their own story,” Walsh said. “Through the creation of strong, personalized relationships, I will help FFA members across this nation develop an understanding of who they are and what they stand for.” National officers commit to a year of service to the National FFA Organization. Each travels more than 100,000 national and international miles; visiting approximately 40 states to interact with business

What’s Online
See more Virginia farm photos at

and industry leaders, thousands of FFA members and teachers, corporate sponsors, government and education officials, state FFA leaders, the general public and more. The team will lead personal growth and leadership training seminars for FFA members throughout the country and help set policies that will guide the future of FFA and promote agricultural literacy. For more information, see or Facebook and Twitter @VirginiaFFA.

Governor McDonnell (right) meets with national FFA president Brian Walsh (left).





Ready, Set, Farm
n Virginia, the younger generation is returning to the farm. That’s great news for the state, but many of them have discovered that starting a farm does not come easy. Eager to come up with a solution to the financial burdens facing Virginia’s new farmers, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) Office of Farmland Preservation and Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers introduced the Certified Farm Seekers program in the summer of 2012. The program is designed for farmers of all levels, whether they are beginning, transitioning or established and looking to expand. It allows them to become a Certified Farm Seeker, which lets landowners know that they are serious and dedicated to farming. Crystal and Edward Marshall of Montgomery County know firsthand the challenges of beginning a farm in a new area. The couple moved from North Carolina to Virginia in 2002. Edward farmed for 10 years in North Carolina, and they’re beginning to farm on an emerging basis here, thanks to the Certified Farm Seekers program. “We really appreciate the structure and opportunity of this program in Virginia. It makes good sense for an experienced farmer like Edward to find land that we can possibly steward and also farm,” Crystal says. The couple says they found the program online and felt that it helped them take their business

Certified Farm Seekers program helps young farmers get started


plan one step further. “It made us get very specific about our needs and interests,” the couple says. The program is designed to help interested farmers produce a business plan and resume, as well as demonstrate on-farm experience through five Whole Farm Planning Modules that contain objectives and questions to help farmers obtain their goals. By highlighting certified farm seekers, the program also enhances VDACS’ Farm Link database, which connects farm owners interested in exiting the agriculture industry with those looking to begin or expand their farming operation. The program is clearly beneficial for young farmers

starting in the business, but it’s also very important to Virginia’s agriculture industry by keeping farmland in production. “We need qualified young farmers to not only take on these businesses, but to successfully build them for the challenges facing our farmers in the future,” says Ron Saacke, director of the Virginia Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Women’s programs. “The partnership between VDACS’ Office of Farmland Preservation and the Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers is a great example of public-private partnership at work, and we believe it will pay dividends for the future of agriculture.” – Rachel Bertone




Exciting new markets and technologies equal growth for forestry in Virginia
Virginia white oak hardwood logs can be made into renewable, clean energy in the form of wood pellets.

Future Forests
Story by Jill Clair Gentry


industry not only keeps beautiful forested land a part of the state’s landscape, but also creates jobs, encourages new technological development and bolsters exports in the state. Of the $70 billion agriculture generates in economic impact each year in Virginia, more than $17 billion of that comes from the forestry sector alone – plus 103,800 jobs and $8.8 billion in value-added impact. And those numbers will only improve in the future, says Charlie Becker, utilization and marketing manager for the Virginia Department of Forestry. Like many industries, the recession and housing crisis affected the forestry sector

negatively, but Becker is optimistic for the future. “We’re seeing the economy start to pick up and exports of forest products moving up, and it’s looking very promising over the next few years,” he says. “There are new mills coming in, and I see over the next few years that as the economy gets better, it will be positive for the industry and the economy here.” Becker says in addition to new mills, the Virginia forestry industry is rising to meet worldwide needs in bioenergy and other new technologies. European nations are reducing their use of coal and other fossil fuels, which has created a need for a renewable, clean energy source – wood pellets.



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Forestry supports 103,800 jobs in Virginia.
Virginia wood products add to the local economy and support jobs in the state.

Ed Sontag – a forester responsible for timber procurement for Enviva, which provides clean, sustainable, renewable woody biomass (wood pellets) to industrial-scale customers – says his company is expanding in Virginia because of the state’s well-maintained forests and the deepwater port in Chesapeake. “It’s important to us as a company to make sure we’ve got a sustainable resource we can use to provide our customers with wood pellets,” he says. “And the private ownership of forestlands in Virginia has the capability to provide that resource.” Sontag says Enviva submits to frequent, stringent audits to make sure its wood pellets are being produced responsibly. “Our customers have asked us to have third parties come in and audit our process — they look at our records, and we show them where wood comes from and how it is harvested,” Sontag says. “We have to use electricity and fossil fuels on the site and in transportation, so all of that goes into the calculations and we do a full account. We have to include

the harvesting, transportation and processing of the product. But even with all that, our product generally reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 70 to 80 percent.” Becker says exporting wood pellets to European utility companies is just one area of the biomass sector. “The pellets are actually going to a number of different areas,” he says. “They’re also going to residential use in Italy, and several plants are producing them for domestic use.” Other new forestry products to look for are biofuels from forest products; cross-laminated timber, a building material that will allow skyscrapers and other large buildings to be built with wood instead of steel and concrete; and nanotechnology, which uses the pure, basic chemicals found in wood to make existing products – anything from tennis balls to medical devices – much better than with existing materials. More new technologies and applications that use forestry products means healthier forests and an assurance that forests remain

forests instead of developments, Becker says. “To have a healthy, prosperous forestry industry, you have to have healthy, prosperous forests,” he says. “They need to be managed, and these markets provide incentives and money to manage them. If you don’t, you run into problems like what they’re facing out West with insect and fire problems. When you give landowners more markets in which to sell their wood products, they have more incentive to keep forests in forestland.” One of the most successful incentive programs is Virginia’s Reforestation of Timberlands program, which was created in 1972 by the General Assembly with support of the forest industry. Funding for the program comes from a forest products tax that is matched by the state. This program provides a continuous level of funding to ensure that good, healthy seedlings are planted to create new forests and provide sustainable forest products for generations to come.

Staff Photos by Jeffrey S. Otto




Story by Keith Loria

From the
Value-added agricultural products increase profits


to evolve, many farmers have diversified their operations, turning to value-added activities to create and expand marketing opportunities and increase on-farm income. The key, for some, in diversification is selling directly to consumers. Many Virginia farmers are finding new markets to sell their products through community-supported agriculture (CSA) activities, farmers’ markets or by starting their own retail store. Kate Zurschmeide, self-appointed “Farmer of Fun” for the 300-acre family-owned Great Country Farms in Bluemont, runs a CSA that has

more than 1,800 members in the Greater Washington, D.C., area. Their CSA offers consumers the opportunity to be an annual shareholder and get a delicious bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables. The 20-year-old farm also has its own retail store, winery, restaurant, U-pick operation and a brewery in the works. “We have tried everything over the past 20 years to help stay a success,” she says. “[The activities] all complement each other and provide us the diversity to roll with weather challenges, crop losses, etc.”



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Great Country Farms visitors enjoy a variety of seasonal family fun activities such as picking pumpkins in the fall.

Staff Photos by Michael Conti

Left to right: Grapes on the vine at Bluemont Vineyards at Great Country Farms. A family visits the barnyard area, featuring miniature horses, at Great Country Farms.

One of the most important ways to keep these value add-ons afloat is by marketing via social media sites and building contact lists online. “We market with online travel sites, through our local tourism bureau and local deal sites such as Certifikid and YipDeals,” Zurschmeide says. “Partnerships with other tourism sites are also key to helping expand our market. The Shenandoah Kids Trail is a new effort we are building to help with our marketing reach.” Susan Hill, a vegetable producer and owner of Hill Farm in Louisa, has supplied produce to a retail grocer since first starting in 2011 and also belongs to the Charlottesville Local Food Hub. “Selling to an upscale market has been very successful for us. Also belonging to the Food Hub has given us exposure to chefs, which is a great way to get your products out there,” she says. “We believe that our produce should be able to compete with the big boys. We are careful with packaging and ensure that our product comes to market in prime condition. Also, we provide out-of-season local produce through the use of high tunnels.” Among the vegetables that Hill has been successful selling in this way are chard, spinach, golden beets, heirloom tomatoes and artisan lettuces. “We will continue to improve the quality and variety of what we are presently doing to stay ahead,” she says.

“We keep extensive records of crop production and quality in order to make this happen.” Mark and Lona Chandler, owners of Chandler’s Gardens in Scottsburg, have done everything from growing and selling greenhouse bedding plants and potted plants to selling vegetables at the local farmers’ markets to commercially producing fresh cut flowers. “It’s really important to be diversified. People are not satisfied with just one thing, and we need to reach a wide variety of customers and offer different things,” Mark Chandler says. “We’re not in a large metropolitan area – the nearest one is more than 100 miles away – so we try to do things that will grow our business and keep our customers happy.” The couple participated in a food safety course to become certified for commercial sales of value-added, processed foods such as jams and jellies, and have begun growing shiitake mushrooms and edamame for sale at the farmers’ market. Most recently, the Chandlers added a farm pond for a fishing operation. “We built the pond about four years ago and decided we wanted to raise some catfish in cages, so we built a 60-foot pier and the cages are right alongside it,” Chandler says. “We sell some at the farmers’ market in the form of fillet or however the customers want it. We’re hoping to grow the fishing operation and get it up to a larger level soon.”



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Focus on Excellence
Virginia’s Finest® program celebrates 25 years


lthough a lot has changed in the past 25 years one thing has remained constant – Virginia’s Finest® still stands for top quality. Beginning in 1989, the state’s trademark program began a strong marketing tradition to gather the best and finest in the state, and has been successfully promoting these products to consumers wanting top-notch Virginia products ever since. Virginia’s Finest® includes top-quality Virginia-produced and -processed products including snacks, nuts, cider, meats and produce. Consumers recognize the familiar “checkmark” on products as a seal of excellence. Member Blue Crab Bay forged ahead with the concept, even in its early days. “In 1986 after I attended an international food fair in California, a few of us thought, ‘Why can’t we do this in Virginia?’” says Pam Barefoot, founder and president of Blue Crab Bay. “We came home and founded a small specialty trade organization.” Begun as a kitchen table startup, Blue Crab Bay today offers dozens

of local specialty products and believes strongly in the Virginia’s Finest® Trademark Program. “It gives us all a sense of pride and the feeling that someone is looking out for us. It also stands for fine government that helps support local products and companies,” Barefoot says. Blue Crab Bay specialty food products can be found in gift shops, specialty stores, online retailers and even in the movies. “Our product was on the shelf in the movie Sleeping With the Enemy with Julia Roberts. We’re also in 20 stores across the nation.” Trade buyers and customers alike understand the value in the blue checkmark and red “A”. Only Virginia products that meet quality standards are part of the elite program. All Virginia’s Finest® products must be approved by a review committee, which is comprised of Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services staff members from several divisions, including

Marketing, Food Safety and Weights and Measures. According to the Specialty Food Association (SFA), total sales of specialty foods in 2012 were $85.87 billion. One of the fastest growing industries in the U.S., the specialty food industry continues to enjoy spectacular growth, outpacing most sectors within the U.S. economy. Learn more about Virginia’s Finest® and the Virginia Food and Beverage Expo by visiting – Karen Mayer

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The digital magazine is available for tablet and phone viewing.




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Dairymen Specialty Company Farm Credit of the Virginias First Bank & Trust Company

Hoober Inc.

The farming partners of Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative are committed to providing our customers with beef that is: locally raised; environmentally friendly; humanely produced; fresh; and delicious. We strive to do what is best for our customers, our cattle, and our families to maintain the integrity and sustainability of our farms. We are working to strengthen our local economy and provide healthy beef for our customers. Our beef is safe and healthy; it comes from local family farms. We are inspired by and proud of the families who are part of our co-op. Family farmers play a vital role protecting traditional farming knowledge and passing it on to future generations.
P.O. Box 5 • Weyers Cave, VA 24486 • 540-487-0142

MeadWestvaco Corporation

National Fruit Product Company Inc.

Shenandoah Valley Beef Cooperative Inc. Virginia 4-H State Office

Virginia Aqua Farmers Network Virginia Association of Agricultural Educators

grow, cook, eat, learn vaae/VAAE-index.html

Serving up recipes, tips and food for thought

Virginia Farm Bureau

Virginia Grain Producers Association Virginia Horse Industry Board Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University Virginia Poultry Federation Virginia State University School of Agriculture

Virginia Wine Board
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A Vital Part of Virginia Agriculture

Photos by Debby Thomas

Virginia’s equine industry is a dynamic $1.2 billion industry with 215,000 horses and more than 40,000 horse operations.

The horse industry in Virginia generates $65.3 million in state and local taxes and more than 16,000 jobs.

Virginia Horse Industry Board • 804-786-5842 •

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