Virginia farmers earned $4 billion from the sale of all agriculture products in 2017, and half of that income was generated in the state’s top 10 ag counties, according to recently released findings from the 2017 Census of Agriculture.
“If California has Silicon Valley for tech companies, Virginia has the Shenandoah Valley for agriculture,” commented Tony Banks, commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Augusta and Rockingham counties were heads and shoulders above most other counties in the state for farm income. And the Valley’s Page and Shenandoah counties also are among the top 10.”
The top 10 Virginia counties for farm income in 2017 were Rockingham with $796 million; Augusta, $293 million; Accomack, $163 million; Page, $150 million; Shenandoah, $143 million; Orange, $113 million; Northampton, $96 million; Amelia, $87 million; Southampton, $75 million; and Pittsylvania, $73 million. Together they total $1.989 billion in total market value of products sold in 2017.
Poultry is Virginia’s top farm commodity, generating $1.35 billion in 2017. The poultry industry has been concentrated in the Shenandoah Valley for decades, Banks said. Augusta and Rockingham counties also were among the top five counties for income from cattle and calves; grain and oilseeds; milk; and nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod products.
“You have to look at it as a mega-complex,” Banks said. “You have multiple poultry integrators with feed mills and processing facilities in Rockingham County. So the live production, the hatcheries and the breeder operations are all going to be within a convenient radius from those plants that are making the feed and doing the processing. This generates demand for grain and oilseeds.”
At the same time, “there’s a strong tradition and history of dairy production in Rockingham and Augusta counties,” he continued. “Again, there are bottling plants there owned by dairy co-ops and now other processors. So the dairies will be as close as possible to the processing plants, which creates a critical mass that supports specialized dairy support services. It just builds on itself.”
Banks said that, while it was no surprise to farm economists that the Shenandoah Valley is the state’s strongest farm region, plenty of other rural areas also boast strong agricultural economies. In addition to Augusta and Rockingham, seven Southwest Virginia counties were among the top 10 for raising cattle and calves—Wythe, Washington, Smyth, Carroll, Grayson, Tazewell and Russell.
The top five farm commodities were poultry and eggs, with $1.35 billion in sales; cattle and calves, $679 million; grains and oilseeds, $509 million; milk, $335 million; and nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod, $328 million.
Rounding out the top 10 Virginia farm commodities were other crops and hay, valued at $155 million; vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes, $111.3 million; tobacco, $107.6 million; hogs and pigs, $96 million; and aquaculture, $90 million.