Ralph Northam's plan for

A stronger agricultural economy

As governor, Ralph Northam will continue to be a champion for Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industries.

Agriculture and forestry are Virginia’s first– and third–largest private industries, and are therefore integral components of the new Virginia economy. While technological advances are allowing our producers and businesses to grow, process and innovate more while simultaneously improving their land and water stewardship, the largest part of the new Virginia economy is also the largest part of the original Virginia economy.

After all, Virginia was started by an agribusiness in 1607—our first export was Virginia timber. But agriculture and agribusiness are about more than dollars and cents. They are also about a way of life: the value of hard work; families that work together as well as live, play and pray together; a spirit of self-reliance that also stands ready to help a neighbor in need.

Ralph Northam knows about those values first-hand, because he was raised on a family farm on the Eastern Shore. While his path took him to the Virginia Military Institute, the Army, and a career in medicine, you don’t forget those lessons from the farm, and you don’t lose those values. That’s why we need to ensure Virginia maintains a robust agricultural economy, because it is not just farmland that can disappear to the pressures of development. Farm life can be imperiled as well.

That is why agricultural economic development is so important. It creates opportunities for younger generations to stay on the farm and in our rural communities and not just survive, but thrive.

A record of success

The McAuliffe-Northam administration oversaw a 30 percent increase in the economic impact of Virginia’s agriculture and forestry industries, which now contribute over $91 billion to Virginia’s economy and employ over 442,000 Virginians. In addition, unemployment is lower today than it’s been in nine years.

While we celebrate this good news, it is imperative we continue to think strategically and develop public-private partnerships that have helped propel our economy forward. Ralph understands the significant role family farming and agribusiness play as a private industry, fueling and feeding the Commonwealth’s citizens and our economy. That is why the McAuliffe-Northam administration has remained committed to ensuring that those in government do everything possible to help those in private industry succeed. Ralph plans to continue efforts to support the growth of agriculture and forestry by focusing on strategic economic development initiatives and global trade throughout his term.

Economic development

On the domestic front, the McAuliffe-Northam administration has implemented two programs designed specifically with our producers and agribusinesses in mind, and both are providing economic development support throughout Virginia, but especially in our rural communities.

During his time in the State Senate, Ralph supported the creation of the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, a local match incentive program designed to assist relocating and expanding agribusinesses that commit to hire more Virginia workers, dedicate more capital investment, and—most importantly—commit to source at least 30 percent of new agricultural inputs from Virginia farmers. Since the fund was created, it has invested $4.3 million in state grants in 50 agribusiness projects in over 35 different localities. The targeted investment by the Commonwealth has yielded $395 million in new capital investment and spurred the creation over 1,500 new jobs. Importantly, the grants require these agribusinesses to buy Virginia-grown products, which has generated an additional $378 million in new purchases from Virginia’s farmers and forestland owners. This tool has made a difference in projects large and small, but at every turn we work to ensure that it is being deployed wisely.

Our producers are hard-working men and women, and we wanted to make sure that they had access to the tools they needed to generate more profit from their operations. As a result, Ralph worked with Governor McAuliffe to launch the Virginia Farm Business Development Program to help farmers and small agribusinesses take their operations to the next level by providing reimbursement grants of up to $5,000 for certain business-related services. These services include developing a business plan, developing a marketing strategy, conducting a market survey to identify new or more profitable opportunities, succession planning and preparing for various certifications. As governor, Ralph would make fully funding this program a top priority.

And lastly, a Northam administration will support new efforts to bring Virginia products to market, including industrial hemp processing. Several of our key public institutions, including Virginia State University, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and James Madison University, are conducting field research on industrial hemp, Virginia could explore workarounds to increase access to hemp for private growers. Additionally, at the federal level, Ralph supports the removal of industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and is encouraged by U.S. House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte’s support for doing so. As part of Ralph’s economic development plan, he will continue efforts to recruit an industrial hemp processor for when then federal law changes.

Global trade

Despite global headwinds, international trade remains a huge opportunity for Virginia producers. Virginia has been a leader in promoting agricultural exports for the past decade, and Ralph has supported growing the Commonwealth’s global trade marketing network and investing in the world-class Port of Virginia. The more we sell in the global marketplace, the more economic opportunity expands for farming families.

Since 2014—working together with industry partners—the McAuliffe-Northam administration has completed international and domestic programs to make sure Virginia agribusinesses have the support they need to flourish. In 2016, we put in place the final two pieces of Virginia’s international trade network: contracting with agricultural trade specialists in the Middle East/North Africa and Southeast Asia to provide support for Virginia agribusinesses looking to access markets abroad.

With more than 90 percent of the world’s customers outside the United States, we want to ensure that Virginia has the infrastructure in place to allow our businesses to access those markets. The results are in: The last two years have seen Virginia agricultural and forestry exports exceed $3 billion for the first time in history. As important as these top-line numbers are, it is the individual stories that demonstrate how we have been able to assist Virginia businesses, whether it is working with Montague Farms to place their specialized soybeans in new Asian markets or working with our apple growers on a reverse trade mission coming to Virginia from India.

Ralph is committed to promoting Virginia Grown and Virginia’s Finest® products around the world, and he is confident that agriculture exports will continue to grow thanks to the high-quality and diversity of products available from outstanding producers and agribusinesses. Through whatever Ralph does in promoting Virginia, at the Governor’s Mansion through foreign trade missions, it will always be about Virginia Grown and Virginia’s Finest® products.

Aquaculture

Growing up on the Eastern Shore, Ralph understands the importance of aquaculture and marine life to Virginia’s economy and way of life. In fact, Ralph supported recent legislation to include aquaculture and commercially-caught fish and seafood in the definition of agricultural products, which allows watermen to be eligible for critical economic development funding to help expand their businesses. As Virginia’s reputation for a seafood destination continues to grow, Ralph will be well equipped to promote our marine products around the globe.

Agritourism

Agritourism combines Virginia’s first and second largest industries—agriculture and tourism—to create an economic powerhouse. Each year, agritourism contributes $2.2 billion to Virginia’s economy. As more and more consumers want to be connected to their food and the folks that grow it, supporting agritourism destinations is a clear win for Virginia. From restaurants and chefs to wineries, farms, breweries, cideries and distilleries, agritourism destinations attract travelers from across the globe to spend their money in Virginia. Virginia Tourism Corporation will be a vital partner in Ralph’s promoting Virginia Grown and Virginia’s Finest®, from apples to our burgeoning wine and craft beer industries.

Reforestation of timberlands

The McAuliffe-Northam administration fully funded the reforestation of the timberlands fund for the first time since the Gilmore administration, giving more access to a critical incentive for landowners to keep our forestland in production. As governor, Ralph will be committed to fully funding this program.

Rural roads

House Bill 2 (2014) and the resulting SMART SCALE process are a valuable shift toward using defined, objective data to govern the prioritization of transportation projects in the Commonwealth. While congestion and environmental quality might be the most important factors in more urban regions, measures such as economic development and accessibility need to remain a focus for more rural areas.

The funding of rural roads is imperative to continued economic growth and the overall health of our vast rural regions in the Commonwealth. As an Eastern Shore native, Ralph knows that even a single trip down U.S. Route 13 and across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel can illustrate how important infrastructure is to rural Virginia. He will continue to be a champion for rural Virginia by ensuring that any process for allocating state money for infrastructure will need to work for all regions of Virginia.

Clean water and the Chesapeake Bay

If you take care of the land and water, it’s going to take care of you. Growing up on a family farm, Ralph knows first-hand that farmers are outstanding stewards of the environment in which they live and work. That is why he worked together with farmers and homebuilders on best practices to restore the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries and helped write a law banning the use of phosphorus in home fertilizers to reduce chemical runoff. Ralph has also championed efforts to jumpstart Virginia’s aquaculture industry, especially crabs and oysters. In addition, he led efforts to stop the introduction of non-native oysters to the Bay and to end winter dredging of blue crabs. He did this all by bringing stakeholders to the table to work together to find solutions, and that’s the same spirit in which he will serve as governor. We have great examples of farmers stepping up all over the Commonwealth to implement best practices for farm management with their use of the Virginia Agricultural BMP Cost-Share Program, Virginia BMP Tax Credit Program and the Resource Management Planning Program.

A Northam administration will oppose lifting the 35 year ban on uranium mining. Virginia can’t risk the economic disaster that would result from a mining accident, which could take decades or even centuries to recover from and would have devastating effects on Virginia’s agriculture industry. As a physician, Ralph knows what radiation does, and knows this is not something that Virginia needs to take a chance on.

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