A little goes a long way in ag (Editorial)

(March 1, 2016) With increasing regularity, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announces grants awarded to agricultural businesses through the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development fund.
The fund, started by then Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2012 and strongly championed by current Gov. Terry McAuliffe, is a discretionary performance-based incentive for the commonwealth to use in partnership with local governments to lure new and expanding ag and forestry businesses to the state.
AFID grants cannot exceed 25 percent of the private capital investment by the business and the grant comes with the requirement that at least 30 percent of the agricultural products to which the business is adding value is grown or produced in Virginia.
As two of Virginia’s top industries, agriculture and forestry warranted an economic development program tailored to their unique characteristics, VDACS Secretary Todd Haymore told farmers recently, and Virginia was losing out on bringing in new ag-based businesses to other states and expanding existing businesses because those projects didn’t create enough jobs or the investment was too small to get attention.
To date, the fund has used $2.6 million on 32 projects to bring in $325 million in private investment and creating 1,520 jobs and on average 77 percent of the products used are Virginia-grown or made.
Haymore said he’s looking to double the incentive fund this year.
“We have now institutionalized agriculture and forestry economic development in the governor’s office,” Haymore told farmers at the recent Virginia Grains and Soybean Conference. “I’m hopeful that the next governor and the next governor will try to beat their predecessor.”
Beyond Virginia’s borders, international marketing and trade is booming with a new state record of $3.35 billion last year, a point that will surely be touted at the eighth annual Conference on Agricultural Trade on March 7-8 in Richmond. In 2010, VDACS had one international trade office but now boasts representatives in eight places around the world, from Canada to China. Haymore said the $3 million investment is expanding its presence abroad has generated $750 million in foreign trade.
The two initiatives show a little bit of money in agriculture support goes a long way. More than the funding, the AFID fund and those like it in other nearby states, say to the farmer or business owner, “We believe in you. We want want you here.”
Haymore also talked about a new farmer business development program he hopes to launch this summer with $750,000. It’s a micro grant program to help farmers do small projects to improve their marketing plans and overall business.
We can’t wait to see where the farmers take it.