Working with partners around the commonwealth, Virginia Tech is poised to help feed a growing world population while assisting the agriculture and forestry industries around the state to flourish and become global leaders, Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands said Tuesday.
Though there are many challenges in the coming decades — including water use, a decrease in agricultural lands, and reduced available labor — Virginia Tech is positioned to turn these problems into opportunities as it educates a new generation of scientists, develops research solutions, and shares this knowledge with the world.
“Virginia Tech and other land-grant partners, including Virginia State University, are in a great position to be a partner with all of you to take advantage of this opportunity going forward,” Sands said in a speech Tuesday at the 2015 Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade in Richmond. “This is a great place to be if you are excited about agriculture.”
The conference, now it its seventh year, is an annual celebration of Virginia agricultural exports and highlights the strength and growth of the commonwealth’s number one industry while bringing together industry leaders to discuss policy issues and global market opportunities.
On Monday, Gov. Terry McAulliffe announced that in 2014 Virginia once again set record with more than $3.35 billion in agriculture and forestry exports. That is more than a 14 percent increase from $2.88 billion in 2013 and a figure that puts Virginia as the second-largest agricultural exporter on the East Coast, up from third place.
Soybeans, lumber, tobacco, wheat, poultry, pork and wine — all commodities for which Virginia Tech provides crucial research and Virginia Cooperative Extension services — are among the state’s top exports.
Sands said Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission, along with the university’s’ motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), positions it to be a key player in developing solutions as the world population increases from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050 and the demand for global food production doubles.
The university continues to grow its research portfolio while increasing the amount of research dollars it spends. The National Science Foundation recently ranked Virginia Tech No. 38 in terms of research and development expenditures. It also moved up to the sixth spot in terms of expenditures for research on agriculture and environmental sciences.
Meanwhile, the university has created a series of new interdisciplinary majors on subjects including water, nanoscience, microbiology, and sustainable biomaterials that will prepare the next generation of scientists to deal with emerging issues in a evolving climate.
"The students we have at Virginia Tech are being prepared to make a difference in the world in their generation and in the future,” Sands said. “That is a special characteristic of Virginia Tech, that when combined with this opportunity, makes the future look very bright.”
The conference is co-hosted by Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, and the Virginia Port Authority. McAuliffe praised both the conference and the industry is represents.
“This is a dynamite industry and we are working together to take it to the next level,” McAuliffe told the room full of foreign diplomats, agricultural and forestry industry leaders, government officials, and handful of students from Virginia Tech. “This is a great testament to great projects and hard work of everyone in this room.”
Others who spoke on the value of Virginia’s agricultural exports included U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; Gary Doer, Canadian ambassador to the U.S.; and José Ramón Cabañas, chief of mission for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C.
The 12 students from the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics who attended the event said they relished the chance to get a first-hand view of the issues they have been reading about.
“I think it is important to see how what we are learning in the classroom plays out in real life and how important agriculture is not only to the state’s industry and economy, but also to the nation’s industry and economy as well,” said Zachary Horton of Fancy Gap, Virginia, a junior majoring in applied economic management.
Jade Womack of Ruther Glen, Virginia, a senior majoring in applied economic management who wants to go into international development, said learning about agricultural trade was a great addition to her education. “You read about it in your textbooks, but experiencing it is a completely different thing,” she said in between hearing speeches from ambassadors from all over the world. “It is much more dynamic.”