Agriculture and Forestry combined comprise the largest industry in Virginia, adding over $70 billion to the economy, employing almost half a million Virginians, and feeding and housing people all over the world. By expanding international markets and making strategic investments in rural infrastructure, our next governor can be a responsible partner to these industries. The effects of Agriculture and Forestry are felt throughout our economy, but rural communities are the most directly impacted. The next governor must make continuing to grow our agricultural and forestry industries a top priority.
1. Expand markets for agriculture and forestry exports. Exporting agriculture and forestry products to international markets is a key component for future growth of Virginia’s economy, and is a key role of the governor as a partner to the industry.
a. Resolve trade disputes. Too often, Virginia’s agriculture and forestry products are subject to protectionist bans and boycotts by foreign governments. As governor, Terry will work directly with foreign authorities and with federal trade representatives to resolve these disputes.
b. Aggressively market Virginia’s agricultural and forestry products. As governor, Terry will build on the work of Governor McDonnell by expanding our network of overseas Agriculture and Forestry trade offices and conducting international trade missions to market our products.
c. Work with the federal government to grow exports. As an advocate for Virginia business, Terry’s economic development officials will help the Commonwealth’s exporters make full use of the wide range of federal programs that help businesses close the deal with overseas partners.
2. Invest in rural infrastructure. With almost a quarter of all Virginians living in rural communities, it is important to ensure that these areas have all the critical infrastructure they need to compete for the jobs of the 21st century.
a. Invest in the infrastructure of exportation. As governor, Terry will prioritize investments in the Port of Virginia, Inland Ports, and other projects that make it easier for agriculture and forestry professionals to get their products to the port and, eventually, to overseas markets.
i. Work with the federal government to invest in short line rail. As governor, Terry will work with industry partners and the federal government to invest in short line rail. Rail lines like the Buckingham Branch are critical to helping Virginia’s rural businesses get their goods to market.
b. Use transportation funding to fix existing infrastructure. As governor, Terry will use the new transportation funding on a “fix-it-first” basis that prioritizes existing infrastructure like decaying rural bridges subject to declining county weight limits that hurt the ability of our forestry industries to move their products efficiently.
c. Prioritize new projects that improve rural connectivity. Certain transportation projects that connect isolated rural communities to markets and centers of employment are crucial to rural economic development.
d. Expand rural broadband and cell service. A 21st century rural economy is impossible without good cell phone coverage and broadband service. Terry will work to create public private partnerships with data providers so that this infrastructure is available to all Virginians who need it.
3. Investing in sustainable agriculture and forestry job creation. For centuries, agriculture and forestry have provided jobs to generations of Virginians. We need to make strategic investments now to ensure their sustainability for generations to come.
a. Promote land grant colleges. Virginia’s nationally renowned land grant colleges – Virginia Tech and Virginia State – perform cutting edge research that keeps the Commonwealth’s agriculture and forestry workers and companies competitive.
i. Leverage private funding for agriculture and forestry research centers. Dotted throughout the Commonwealth, these installations conduct important field research on agriculture and forestry. Strategic use of challenge grants in this area can leverage private funding for these centers and get more bang for the taxpayer’s dollar while helping keep Virginia industry profitable and growing.
b. Protect the Cooperative Extension Service. The Cooperative Extension Service is a strong partnership of professors, students, extension agents, farmers, and forestry professionals. With 107 offices in communities all over the state, Terry understands that this service plays a crucial role in rural life and business.
c. Fulfill our commitment to the reforestation. The Reforestation of Timberlands program represents a commitment by the Commonwealth to invest in the sustainable, profitable management of our 16 million acres of forestland. Terry will work to fulfill that commitment and protect this critical resource.
d. Prioritize investment in rural job creation programs. The Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund (AFID) is relatively new program that invests in creating jobs in rural communities. Started in 2012, this program has already created over 700 jobs in areas that need them the most. This fund should be expanded over time as resources and projects become available.
e. Expand the “Bio-Economy”. Every day, researchers around the world are discovering new uses for agriculture and forestry products. From bulletproof vests from bio-materials, to a program at Virginia Tech that makes plastics out of waste poultry feathers, these technological advances create new markets and new revenue streams for agriculture and forestry. With our network of universities and our diverse biological resources, Virginia has a tremendous opportunity to become the center of an east cost bio-economy hub.
f. Advocate with Virginia’s Congressional delegation for the passage of a modern, bipartisan farm bill. The federal Farm Bill affects every aspect of Virginia agriculture and forestry. As governor, Terry will advocate with our Congressional delegation to break gridlock and support a bipartisan, robust bill.
g. Help veterans become farmers and forestry professionals. Their training, experience, and ethic of service make veterans uniquely suited to the farming and forestry lifestyle. As governor, Terry would support programs to reach out to our Veterans and offer them training and opportunities to enter this growing industry as workers and owners.
4. Improve water quality. Cleaning up Virginia’s streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay remains a state top priority. The agriculture and forestry industries are crucial partners in this effort, and Terry will work with them to provide regulatory certainty, avoid regulatory overreach, and clean up Virginia’s waterways.
a. Maintain state control over water quality initiatives. The Commonwealth of Virginia cannot cede control of water quality initiatives to the federal government, so we must do everything possible to ensure that we’re meeting our environmental responsibilities. As governor, Terry will work to provide technical guidance and cost-share funds to farmers and forest professionals to enact Best Management Practices.
i. Ensure regulatory certainty. We need to improve programs like resource management plan regulations that allow farmers and forestry professionals to reduce their environmental footprint while having regulatory certainty. No one should have to run his or her business while dealing with a constantly shifting regulatory environment.
b. Streamline communication between secretariats and agencies. As governor, Terry will ensure that the Secretary of Natural Resources and the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry are in constant communication to generate an accurate Agricultural Needs Assessment and work in tandem to manage our Commonwealth’s resources.
i. Ensure responsive staffing at relevant agencies.Staffing levels are unacceptably low at agencies like Department of Conservation and Recreation and Department of Forestry. Filling these key positions is crucial to ensuring that our industries can get the answers and services they need from state government.
ii. Refine water quality model. Terry will support ongoing efforts to ensure the Chesapeake Bay restoration model reflects the most accurate agriculture and forestry data.
c. Support the work of Virginia’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Soil and Water Conservation Districts are on the front lines of the effort to reduce run off from agriculture and forestry activities. We must ensure that their staff has the support they need to serve as good partners to Virginia agriculture.
5. Preserve Virginia’s farms and forests. The rural character of Virginia is central to our identity and our economy. We need to protect the policies that are in place to preserve rural and productive land.
a. Protect the land preservation tax credit and easements. Virginia’s program of land preservation is routinely ranked as the best in the nation. As governor, Terry will protect and promote this program, which preserves open space, protects Virginia’s rural character, and provides critical tax relief for working farms.
b. Stress the importance of land use valuation. As governor, Terry will stress to localities the importance of land use valuation that incentivizes farming and maintenance of timber lands to better reflect the property value of Virginia farm and timber resources.
c. Ensure generational transition of farms and forests. The average age of the Virginia farmer is 58 years old. Transition of working lands to the next generation of farmers and forestry professionals is a top priority of the industry and is something we must solve.
i. Support the Farm Link Program. The Farm Link program is a joint effort of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Virginia Farm Bureau. This program, that links retiring farmers with potential buyers, should be promoted and protected.
ii Work with Future Farmers of America to refine agriculture curriculum. Agriculture career and technical education at the grade school level is crucial to preparing the next generation.
iii. Protect 4-H programs from budget cuts. 4-H is one of the oldest, most successful youth development programs in America. It should have the support it needs from the governor.
6. Enact smarter regulations. Virginia has a tradition of well-targeted, efficiently enforced regulations that protect consumers without unduly burdening business. As governor, Terry will continue this tradition.
a. Encourage local, specialty farms. Local farms that produce specialty products and host farm visits are helping bring Virginia agriculture to the 21st century. These farms educate Virginians about the role of agriculture in modern society and draw tourists from surrounding localities. These farms should be encouraged to continue growing and prospering.
b. Refine relationship between farmers and forestry professionals and localities. Terry is supportive of ongoing efforts of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to find common ground between farmers and local regulators. Finding common ground to protect consumers while allowing for value-added products is critical for the long-term health of the agriculture industry.
c. Maintain state control of agricultural safety inspections. The current state-controlled system of safety inspection serves Virginia farmers much better than a federally controlled program would. Terry will work oppose any legislation that would endanger this relationship.