Agriculture, forestry initiatives include land preservation

Published 9:32 am Saturday, January 8, 2011

by Todd Haymore

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s agriculture and forestry initiatives for 2011 were unveiled Friday.

The announcement includes legislation and budget amendments that I will advocate on behalf of the administration, as well as long-term goals that I, along with the governor, hope to accomplish this year and over the next three years.

In the upcoming session, the governor will propose legislation to preserve working farm and forestlands that will coincide with his goal to preserve 400,000 acres of open space. Legislation also will be introduced in accordance with a recommendation from the governor’s Economic Development and Jobs Creation Commission to create a reimbursable tax credit program for the establishment or expansion of vineyards and wineries.

In addition, family farms and the environment will be aided by two new positions in the Agriculture Stewardship Act program to help them meet water quality requirements in the Chesapeake Bay region and throughout the state while maintaining commercial viability. This is part of the fulfillment of Virginia’s Watershed Implementation Plan that was recently approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2010, the first year of the McDonnell Administration, agriculture and forestry continued to thrive as Virginia’s top two industries in spite of difficult global economic conditions. According to a 2008 University of Virginia economic impact study, agriculture generates about $55 billion in annual revenue and about 350,000 jobs per year, while forestry is responsible for an addition $24 billion in revenue and 150,000 jobs per annum.

Recent reports from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services point to the maintenance, and possible increase, of the 2009 level of agriculture and forestry product exports when the industries reached an all-time high of $2.3 billion. Strong partnerships have been built with existing importers of Virginia products, as well as efforts to recruit new importers around the globe.

Some of these partnerships have spawned from recent trade mission trips to the United Kingdom and Europe, where Gov. McDonnell and I met with foreign companies and promoted Virginia’s leading products in July.

Also in 2010, Virginia’s wine industry continued to thrive and gain recognition both domestically and internationally. The General Assembly agreed to more than double the amount of funds placed into the Virginia Wine Promotion Fund for research, education and marketing programs.

First Lady Maureen McDonnell joined me to play an active role in heightening the profile of Virginia wine by leading trips across the state to wineries and promoting the product in both the United States and abroad. Virginia also landed two top wine industry gatherings in 2010 when both the Wineries Unlimited Trade Show & Conference and the Wine Bloggers Conference announced they would hold their respective annual events in Virginia during 2011.

These efforts and attention resulted in a 13 percent increase in sales of Virginia wine during last fiscal year over the previous fiscal year. Sales of Virginia wines in the first quarter of fiscal year 2011 are up 8 percent over the same time period of fiscal year 2010.

The governor has provided agriculture and forestry with several opportunities in the General Assembly to build on their status as Virginia’s top two industries in 2011. He has also made it clear that I am to continue to act as his and Virginia’s chief marketing and development officer for agriculture and forestry products both here and abroad.

It is a mandate that I look forward to carrying out with our private sector partners throughout 2011 and the remainder of the Governor’s term.”

TODD HAYMORE became Virginia’s secretary of agriculture and forestry in January 2010. He can be reached at Agriculture&