September 25, 2008

500,000 in Virginia Work in Agriculture, Study Says


By Julian Walker

The Virginian-Pilot


Standing near crop fields at a Henrico County farm operated by the same family for 97 years, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine on Wednesday proclaimed Virginia's agricultural economy strong.

In the Old Dominion, agrarian by nature from its earliest days, forestry and farming industries remain a significant segment of the financial foundation. Together they contributed almost $79 billion to the state economy in 2006, according to a new report.

That figure comes from an analysis by University of Virginia researchers. Their report estimated that the two industries provide 500,000 jobs in the state, more than 10 percent of the available labor force.

While the numbers sound impressive, other figures raise alarms about the future vitality of the state's farm and forestry businesses. Virginia had more than 8.5 million acres of farmland as of 2007 but 200,000 fewer acres than in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Total wooded acres are declining after decades of reforestation efforts in Virginia.

Kaine, who announced the U.Va. study's findings Wednesday, set a goal to conserve 400,000 acres of undeveloped land, including forests, during his four years as governor. The state should meet that goal and "make some headway back against development pressures that are taking land out of operation," Kaine said.

Government conservation programs can protect some farms and forests, but they can't stop the progress of development, said Jesse J. Richardson Jr., a Virginia Tech urban affairs and planning professor .

"None of these tools ... will change the rate of development," he said. "All these tools do is move the development around. Sometimes that's a good thing, and sometimes that's not a good thing."

A larger concern, Richardson said, is the lack of succession planning among as many as two-thirds of Virginia farmers, whose average age is 56.

"It is a huge issue ...," Richardson said. "They did not plan how they're going to pass it to the next generation."

Julian Walker, (804) 697-1564, [email protected]

one sign of worry

In 2007, Virginia had 200,000 fewer acres of farmland than it did at the beginning of the decade.

Originally published by BY JULIAN WALKER.

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