December 1, 2011
China, Virginia's largest export market, has refused to lift a ban on Virginia's poultry and logs.
The Chinese government banned the import of Virginia's poultry three years ago after an outbreak of avian influenza in the Shenandoah Valley in 2007. In April, the country banned the import of logs from Virginia and South Carolina after insects were found in some shipments.
Thus far, the state and federal governments' efforts to have the bans lifted have been unsuccessful, said J.J. Keever, senior deputy executive director for external affairs at the Virginia Port Authority.
Keever was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation's annual three-day convention in Norfolk.
"We're basically at the mercy of the Chinese government," said Greg Edwards, the port authority's director of external affairs.
While he couldn't estimate the financial impact of the two bans, he estimates that the log ban is stopping the export of about 5,000 shipping containers per month from Virginia.
Nonetheless, Virginia's agricultural and forestry exports totalled US$2.2 billion in 2010, ranking the state ninth in agricultural exports.
With the Panama Canal expansion opening in 2014, Virginia - the third largest port on the East Coast - is poised to grow because its channel is deeper and less obstructed that the two larger ports of New York and Savannah, Ga., said Keever.
The use of shipping containers - 20- or 40-foot containers transported by rail or truck to port facilities, where they are loaded on ships - has opened avenues for smaller farmers to get into the export industry over the last decade, said Daniel LeGrande, an area manager for Virginia International Terminals.
Reducing the volume of the content made it easier for smaller producers to compete and enabled countries without the port or storage facilities for larger volumes to buy more reasonable amounts.
"The use of containers has created a cottage industry for small- to medium-sized producers over the last 10 years," said Edwards. "It's more attainable, you don't have to have this massive tonnage to ship overseas anymore."
Nearly 23% of all containers passing through the Port of Virginia in 2011 contained agricultural products, with the top agricultural exports including soy, grains, pork, poultry, tobacco, wood products, cotton and fuels and oils.