Students, farmers, agricultural policy representatives, and others in the food industry came away from the 11th annual Virginia Governor's Conference on Agricultural Trade, held earlier this month in Richmond, Virginia, with increased interest and understanding of the importance and status of new trade negotiations and the availability of new markets.

The conference, which was co-hosted by the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, featured presentations from Ambassador and United States’ Chief Agricultural Negotiator Gregg Doud and minister for economic and commercial affairs at the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., Zhu Hong. Both speakers indicated their commitment to negotiating a trade deal between the U.S. and China that would benefit the agricultural sector.

"We have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for best, but I'm personally optimistic that the trade dispute will finally get resolved," said Zhu.

Presentation topics covering the current U.S.-China trade dispute, global demand drivers for food and agricultural products, biotechnology, and differing food safety regulations sparked further conversations among conference attendees.

“One of the benefits of this conference is that it brings together a diverse audience around a common goal – to advance agricultural trade,” said Associate Professor Jason Grant, who directs the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Center for Agricultural Trade. “This year, we saw Virginia farmers and ranchers take an active role in asking questions of the United States’ chief agricultural negotiator; and students discussed trade issues with the embassy representatives who attended – 15 embassies in total.”

Discussions focused on differences between European Union and United States regulatory policy surrounding agriculture and ways to overcome the related challenges, as well as contrasting ways in which countries manage their food supply.

“The media tells you that it’s all bad and it’s us versus them, but it’s not,” said Grace Grossen, a Virginia Tech master’s student studying agricultural trade. “I liked that the chief (agricultural) negotiator talked about how it’s more complicated than that and that the negotiation teams are working their tails off and that they’re not enemies like some might want you to think.”

Conference discussions poured over into the reception, which, for the first time in the conference’s history, was held at the Executive Mansion, where Gov. Ralph Northam stressed the importance of agriculture to Virginia’s economy and the need to raise the next generation of Virginia farmers and agricultural advocates.

High school, associate, undergraduate, and graduate students from seven schools and universities throughout Virginia and North Carolina attended the event, which is designed to educate attendees on current issues in agricultural trade and stimulate discussions among agricultural stakeholders.

With over 300 participants, this year’s conference was the largest to date. The high caliber of speakers informing Virginia agricultural stakeholders and the large number of attendees representing academia, financial institutions, food and agricultural businesses, production, and government positively impacts Virginia’s agriculture and forestry economy, the commonwealth’s largest economic sector.

Conference co-hosts included the Office of the Governor, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and Virginia Port Authority.    

-          Written by Jillian Broadwell