Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell addressed about 150 attendees at the recent 2012 Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade. He underscored his administration’s global marketing initiatives in securing new and lucrative deals for the state’s agricultural exports. The commonwealth’s agricultural exports exceeded $2.35 billion in 2011, a record high.

“There is no other conference like this in the United States,” said Ambassador Richard Crowder, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “It is organized by four entities working cooperatively and the diverse audience ranges from students to bankers to CEOs.”

Virginia Tech, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and the Virginia Port Authority, organized the event in Richmond on March 13 and 14.

Ambassadors, dignitaries, and diplomats from Colombia, the Republic of Korea, India and New Zealand were guest speakers. They discussed free trade agreements and presented their perspectives on what is needed to meet their countries’ demands for agriculture and forestry products.

“Our focus is education as well as an understanding of the importance of trade policy issues so the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences can disseminate information to students and stakeholders within the communities,” said Gordon Groover, Extension economist in agriculture and applied economics. “Farmers who may not be directly involved in trade may be selling their products to vendors who are trading in the global marketplace. The farmers may need to use different methods and grow a variety of products in order to meet the demand of customers in the international market. There is also the issue of traceability. European countries and the Pacific Rim, for example, want to see documentation showing the geographic origin of food at all the stages of production, storage, processing and distribution.”

“We try to make the average producer aware of all these issues,” Groover said. “Mexico, Colombia, India, and Australia are our customers as well as our competitors. We must identify the procedures, opportunities, and challenges related to export trade and understand the international marketplace.”

The reach of the conference went well beyond agriculture, said Mark McNamee, senior vice president and provost for Virginia Tech, who also attended the conference. It also touched upon economics, international relations, politics, business and regulatory affairs.

“We want to make sure we can facilitate good communications across the different sectors including agriculture exporters and policy setters to find out what’s in demand in this complex business and learn about what’s happening next. How do we export to specific markets?” McNamee said. “Most agriculture people are pretty sophisticated. They understand how to think strategically.”

As a land grant university, Virginia Tech communicates these concepts through its mission of teaching, research, and Extension.

“We can help the state’s economy by helping the agriculture industry be successful,” McNamee said.

The conference also brought together students eager to learn about export trade issues, said Dean Alan Grant of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The conference provided Virginia Tech faculty the opportunity to interact with Virginia producers and international dignitaries.

“Our research and Extension helps growers apply new discoveries and technologies to grow products that can be exported,” Grant said, citing Virginia’s $139 million wheat export market to Egypt and the college’s extensive wheat research as an example.

Virginia Cooperative Extension’s small grains program is developing broadly adapted, high-yielding, disease-resistant soft wheat and specialty wheat varieties that provide an economic advantage to producers, seedsmen, millers, bakers, and consumers. Another goal of the program is to develop specialty barley varieties for new markets.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.


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