China lifts ban on U.S. poultry products

WASHINGTON—More than $1 billion worth of poultry and poultry products are expected to be exported to China in the coming year, following the dissolution of a U.S. poultry ban imposed since 2015.

China banned imports following a 2014 avian influenza outbreak. U.S. poultry has been free of the disease since August 2017.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said reopening China to U.S. poultry “will create new export opportunities for our poultry farmers and support thousands of workers employed by the U.S. poultry industry.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the U.S. is the world’s second-largest poultry exporter, with global sales of poultry products valued at $4.3 billion last year.

Virginia’s poultry industry has generated almost $13 billion overall in statewide economic activity, supporting 52,000 direct and indirect jobs, according to the Virginia Poultry Federation. There are more than 1,100 family-owned poultry farms in the commonwealth.

Jacki Easter of Amelia County, a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Poultry Advisory Committee, is one of those farmers. Her family raises broilers, and she expressed relief that China lifted the ban.

“My first reaction was, ‘Hallelujah,’” Easter said. “This is definitely good news. We need all the markets that we can have available, and China has been a huge market for U.S. poultry.”

The economic effects of a ban, and the lifting of one, are felt exponentially. In addition to raising broilers, the Easters produce feed grain that is largely fed to poultry.

“When you’re not moving those chickens, that means you’re not moving that grain,” she explained. “But with a greater demand for poultry comes more demand for feed grain for poultry.”

Easter pointed out that increased demand for those products means farmers will buy more equipment and hire more workers, further strengthening the economy as a whole.

Robert J. Mills Jr. of Pittsylvania County, who chairs the VFBF poultry committee, has a breeder operation that raises birds for Perdue Farms. While domestic poultry consumers prefer white meat, legs and wings, he noted, the international community provides a marketplace for byproducts unpopular at home, like chicken feet.

“When you lose some of that market share to tariffs or trade embargos, you end up getting a glut on non-marketable products in the U.S., which puts pressure on white meat to be more profitable,” Mills said. “For companies to remain profitable, every marketable part of that bird needs a home in a market.”

Mills said a surplus of poultry byproducts means U.S. consumers ultimately pay more for white meat cuts.

“Things are very complex now,” he said. “We’re in a global economy. It’s even more important today than ever before that we work with trade partners and open channels to have a steady flow of product being exported.”

Virginia Christmas trees selling ‘faster than we can grow them’

RICHMOND—Virginia Christmas tree growers are preparing for a robust season, but some worry there may not be enough supply to meet the demand.

“We’re selling trees faster than we can grow them,” said John Carroll, vice president of the Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association.

Carroll said the fact that Thanksgiving fell later in November this year is creating a short supply. He said most customers buy their trees over the Thanksgiving weekend or the week after, and that’s when most choose-and cut-growers open.

With fewer days to buy and a strong demand for fresh Christmas trees, Carroll anticipates growers coming up short. “Choose-and-cut farms may close early if their supplies run out,” he noted.

David Hubbuch, who operates Blue Ridge Tree and Berry Farm in Shenandoah County, isn’t concerned about his tree supply. He said the weather has been ideal for his choose-and-cut farm, and he expects to have enough trees for the season. “We actually have a good selection.”

That’s not always the case, because Northern Virginia tree farmers grow trees that are not native to the area. “Most of the Christmas trees, firs, spruces and pines are natural to mountainous areas, so it’s always a challenge to find the right varieties that are going to adapt to this climate and this type of soil,” Hubbuch said.

No matter where they’re grown in the state, Carroll predicts strong Christmas tree sales this season.

“The wholesale market is good for the producers,” Carroll maintained. “Supply is tight, the crop looks good, and the good cold weather came in time to provide the seal beneath the needles.”

Virginia chestnut group rekindling holiday tradition 

LOVINGSTON—The American chestnut tree of the past is long gone, but thanks to a group of Virginia farmers, centuries-old chestnut traditions are being re-introduced.

Virginia Chestnuts LLC, a group of chestnut growers offering “a taste of history,” is comprised of five Nelson County farms—Breidablik Farm, Bryant Farm and Nursery, Helbert Orchard, Hopkins Orchard and Seamans’ Orchard Inc.—and Jefferson Farm in Rockingham County.

Chestnuts owe a fair amount of their lore to the opening line of Nat King Cole classic The Christmas Song. However, when his timeless rendition was released in 1946, the American chestnut was already largely extinct. Now, if Americans have ever eaten chestnuts at all, they were likely imported.

Providing the public with fresh chestnuts has been Virginia Chestnuts’ way of bringing a nearly forgotten legacy back into Virginia homes as well as those across the nation. The group shipped chestnuts to over 40 states in 2018.

“Ninety percent of the chestnuts eaten in the United States are imported, and when they get to the grocery store, they’re not refrigerated,” said Kim Bryant of Bryant Farm and Nursery. “We keep our chestnuts refrigerated. We keep a good, fresh product, and when people get it they are just amazed with the quality of the flavor—they’re nice and sweet like they should be.”

In addition to the chestnut’s natural sweetness, the nut has become a mainstay holiday food due to its health benefits. Chestnuts provide a low-calorie, lowfat snack compared to other nuts, but also are high in fiber, complex carbohydrates and vitamin C.

In addition to boiling or roasting chestnuts, they also can be used in recipes for soup, pasta, bread and stuffing. A chestnut puree can be added to cakes or made into a frosting.

“People don’t realize how versatile chestnuts are,” Bryant said.

She said Virginia Chestnuts’ harvest this fall was its best yet, totaling 11,000 pounds. Demand also has been high, with two-thirds of the harvest already sold.

Virginia offering nutrient management training

RICHMOND—Soil management is an important part of farming, and not having an adequate nutrient management plan in place can put farmers at a disadvantage.

To give farmers and other agriculture professionals insight and training into how efficient nutrient plans are developed, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation will offer a two-part nutrient management training school in December. Both sessions will be held at the Homewood Suites Richmond Airport Hotel in Sandston.

On Dec. 9 and 10, speakers from Virginia Tech will cover soil science, soil fertility and crop production. On Dec. 16-18, speakers will cover nutrient management plan writing using a case-study farm. The sessions will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day.

The program is for anyone interested in learning about the plan-writing process or how to become a certified plan writer.

For more information, visit dcr.virginia.gov/soil-and-water/nmtrain. To register, contact Susan Jones at 804-443-3803 or susan.jones@dcr.virginia.gov.