by Courtney Llewellyn

Agriculture is the largest industry in the state of Virginia, with an annual economic impact of about $70 billion and more than 334,000 jobs, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The beef industry accounts for a very large portion of that pie, with cattle and calves being the commonwealth’s number two farm commodity (behind broiler chickens) in 2016 (the most recent data available from USDA NASS), bringing in $416 million. What does 2019 look like for cattlemen there?

“The total number of cattle and calves in Virginia has remained relatively stable at around 1.5 million for a decade,” reported Jason Carter, director of government affairs for the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association. “The most noticeable change in cattle production in Virginia has been the number of larger herds growing (herds of more than 100 head) and the number of producers with fewer than 30 head growing. Beef cattle farming in Virginia is very much a function of land use and over the years the number of feeder cattle we market and the number of females retained has not changed much, but the ownership of these cattle is being redistributed to the opposite ends of the producer landscape.”

Legislatively speaking, the Virginia General Assembly convened on Jan. 9 for its latest session. “Taxes and a state budget will dominate the legislative agenda surely, and the impacts of the budget discussion particularly will have impact on important priorities for the beef cattle industry including best management practice cost share funding, Water Quality Improvement Fund reserves, Virginia Cooperative Extension and commodity marketing programs at the Virginia Department of Agriculture,” Carter stated.

A number of organizations are very active in working with beef farmers as well. Carter’s organization, the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association (VCA), has been around since 1944 to promote the profit potential of the commonwealth’s cattle industry. In addition to marketing, VCA works in many areas, including media relations, producer information, sponsorship of educational seminars for cattlemen, administrative support for Virginia’s Beef Checkoff Program and coordination of activities with cattle-related organizations in Virginia.

The Virginia Angus Association is a not-for-profit company focused on marketing and promotion of Angus cattle, offering a variety of services to assist members in advertising their programs and genetics.

Virginia Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) brings producers together to maximize consumer confidence in Virginia beef through the use of science, research and educational initiatives. As part of the Mid-Atlantic BQA program, Virginia BQA educates and certifies producers in best management practices that improve the safety and quality of beef.

Carter note that Virginia has never been a “traditional” cattle feeding state, and therefore the amount of beef produced there is relatively small. “But there continues to be a growing interest in and demand for locally produced beef that continues to spawn niche markets throughout the Commonwealth,” he said.