The second session of VALOR took us to Suffolk, VA, where we had the opportunity to experience and realize the diversity and impact of Virginia agriculture. Our visit focused on all levels of production; from field, to harvest, to processing, to getting it to your front door.
We visited Paul Roger’s farm; a conventional farming operation producing row crops of corn, soybeans, wheat, and peanuts. Quail Cove Farms specialized in organic sweet potato & natural foods; delivering fresh organic sweet potatoes directly to customers homes and Route 11 specialty chips. Our final “farm” visit was to Mid-Atlantic Aquatic Technologies, where they are innovators in recirculating aquaculture of Black Sea Bass.
We also focused on the equipment that makes our harvest possible at Amadas Industries; manufacturers of peanut harvesters and irrigation equipment. Additionally, we had a fascinating demonstration on precision agriculture. GPS equipment can map a field, and apply precisely the correct amount of seed, chemical, and fertilizer to varying sections of a field based on soil types, plant needs, and a seemingly infinite number of other variables. This technology is allowing producers to produce more with less, increasing profitability and conserving resources.
Finally, we focused on getting the product into the hands of the consumer. Visiting Smithfield Foods put in perspective how much food is actually needed to feed the world. That was a lot of bacon and ham. The highlight of this visit was doing a taste test of new bacon flavors at the Smithfield Innovation Center. We also visited Commonwealth Gin, and for those who want to know more about a cotton gin, check out Jennifer’s Blogs. Let’s just say, it was a lot of cotton. We also visited the Perdue Deepwater Port, where we saw a large ship with 1 million metric tons of soybeans being loaded. Talk about feeling small.
I took many things away from this trip, but one thing that sticks out in my mind are the opportunities that are right here in Virginia. The Port of Virginia is a flurry of economic activity that indirectly services almost everyone in Virginia. The Port of Virginia is a state owned asset that operates six water based terminals, and one inland terminal that moved nearly 18 million tons of cargo in over 2 million TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalent Units), valued at excess of $53 Billion. Ships come and go from all over the world, with the top importers being Walmart, Target, Lumber Liquidators, Home Depot, QVC, and Red Bull (yes, Americans are addicted to Energy in more ways than one). Ships leave with cargo, too, with agriculture exports leading the way. The top destinations for our products are China, Germany, India, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The largest export is coal, with 35-40 million tons of coal leaving every year. Without a doubt, the numbers speak for themselves. On the horizon, post Panama Canal expansion, are the Super-Cargo ships that can carry double the containers as ships that can currently navigate the Panama Canal; hauling up to 14,000 TEUs. Virginia is uniquely suited to handle these vessels, as we have the only NATURAL deep-water port on the east coast that can currently handle the 50’ draft needed to handle these ships. Other ports must dredge continuously to maintain enough freeboard to handle these ships.
This session of VALOR was intense, with many hours out bouncing from site to site in a whirlwind with little downtime to actually absorb what you just saw. It was worth it though, as I cannot think of anywhere I did not benefit from the visit. My perspective on opportunities here and abroad is broadened, and I have a greater understanding of just how many layers that makes up Virginia’s agricultural industry. Being one of three guys in the group at 6’6” and above, though, makes me appreciate my seat location in the car…
Next stop, Shenandoah Valley