Virginia farmers keep close watch on net income forecast 

WASHINGTON—U.S. net farm income is expected to increase 10 percent this year, according to projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But the increase follows a 16 percent drop in 2018.

The USDA projects a $5.2 billion increase to $69.4 billion in 2019 inflation-adjusted dollars. Despite the rise, net cash farm income is still expected to be the third-lowest level over the past decade.

According to USDA, the projected increase is based on higher price expectations for crop and livestock receipts.

“The forecast represents a mixed bag at best for Virginia farmers,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Obviously, some enterprises like dairy, soybeans and tobacco will continue to face strong challenges in 2019; there may be opportunities for corn, fruit, vegetables, turkeys and beef.”

American Farm Bureau Federation Chief Economist Dr. John Newton said such early projections offer a best-case scenario.

“It’s important for folks to remember that this is a very early estimate of what farm income could look like in 2019. USDA assumes in this forecast record production of livestock products; they assume trend yields for many of the major field crops; and they also assume slightly higher prices for many of the commodities, except for pork and soybeans,” Newton explained.

U.S. corn cash receipts are projected to rise $2.5 billion. Cotton, fruits and nuts, and wheat also are expected to see rising cash receipts, but soybean cash receipts are expected to decline by $2.6 billion.

Livestock receipts are projected to rise for cattle and calf sales by $2.7 billion, and broilers by $100 million, while hog receipts are expected to decline by $700 million because of lower prices.

The higher net farm income projection comes at a time when many farmers continue to face headwinds in primary export markets.

While these projections suggest 2019 could be better than 2018 for many farmers, much is up in the air. Retaliatory tariffs are still in place, and recently both Mexico and the European Union threatened additional tariffs if 232 U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum are not removed, or if auto tariffs are put in place. Additional tariffs would further erode U.S. commodities’ competitiveness in key agricultural markets and would weigh on farm income, as they did in 2018.

“A number of uncertainties remain when you think about weather conditions and acreage allocations. Ultimately, we need to see these tariffs removed for us to continue to serve those key export markets,” Newton added.

The USDA's next update is scheduled for August. Highlights from the report are available at ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-sector-income-finances/highlights-from-the-farm-income-forecast.

State continues to experience honeybee losses

RICHMOND—Every winter the commonwealth’s honeybee population experiences colony losses. Over the past five years, surveys have shown a steady increase in honeybee mortality averaging greater than one-third of the statewide population.

Aaron Evans, an agricultural inspector with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, told a group of farmers in January that 2017 was a bad year for bee losses, and that the losses were even worse in 2018, with some beekeepers losing as much as 60 percent of their bees.

Evans said the cause of those losses is not pesticides but high levels of Varroa mites and Nosema infections in wintering bees. He said there is limited to no access to once widely available antibiotics that could help treat honeybee maladies. After an FDA ruling, medicinal treatment is available only through a veterinarian.

Few veterinarians are familiar with honeybee biology and diseases, which can hamper beekeepers’ ability to suppress maladies such as American Fouldbrood, the most destructive beehive disease. In addition, the manufacturer of the antibiotic Fumigillin, which was used to treat Nosema, closed in 2018, raising concerns about possible increases of the disease in the future.

Despite pesticides not being the reason for the decline, pesticide use in and around honeybee habitats is a concern. Virginia and three other states developed a Pollinator Protection Plan in June 2017 aimed to foster communication between pesticide applicators and beekeepers and the use of best management practices to protect pollinators.

BeeCheck, a Virginia apiary registry, was created as a voluntary communication tool that enables beekeepers and pesticide applicators to work together, using a mapping program, to protect apiaries. Details are available at va.beecheck.org.

“BeeCheck shows applicators where registered hives are located, so that if they are going to spray, they can contact the producer and let them know when they plan to spray, what they are going to spray and other information. It makes it easier to communicate,” explained Tony Banks, a commodity specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

VDACS is addressing the colony loss problem by encouraging people to become new beekeepers and encouraging existing beekeepers to add more hives. Last July VDACS transitioned from its Beehive Grant Program to a Beehive Distribution Program in which basic beehive units are purchased and distributed to individuals. The program goal is to increase the number of active beehives, and thereby pollinators, in the commonwealth. More information is available at vdacs.virginia.gov/plant-industry-services-beehive-distribution-program.shtml.

VDACS also encourages homeowners and apartment dwellers to plant pollinator gardens and window boxes. Border plantings of bee-friendly plants around crop fields provides needed forage, particularly in hot, dry months.

Beekeepers are encouraged to monitor Varroa mites in their hives in July and August, and to take appropriate steps to reduce damaging levels of the parasite. For more information visit vdacs.virginia.gov/plant-and-pest.shtml.

Get your salt fix on the Salty Southern Route

SMITHFIELD—Your trip to Southeast Virginia just got tastier. Long-known for their peanuts, salt-cured hams and other pork products, Isle of Wight, Southampton, Surry and Sussex counties and the city of Suffolk are all part of the new Salty Southern Route.

The route made its debut March 1 at the Isle of Wight Museum, self-proclaimed home of the world’s oldest ham and peanut.

“This area of the commonwealth has long been home to fine pork and peanut products produced by Virginia’s farmers who work hard to raise quality products for consumers to enjoy,” noted Daryl Butler, a senior district field services director for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Butler and his family grow peanuts, cotton and corn and have been involved in the peanut industry for more than 80 years. “It’s great there’s a route that helps connect tourists and locals alike with some of the finest foods in Virginia.”

Along the route are many farms, peanut processors and country stores where consumers can experience the culture and people behind the delicious regional foods, explained Judy Winslow, director of tourism for Smithfield.

“The Salty Southern Route takes you on a journey through this picturesque area to experience this tradition first-hand,” Winslow added, “and of course, you'll get to sample some mighty fine food along the way!”

A route map, photos and a list of restaurants and attractions on the route are available at saltysoutherroute.com.

Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit to take place in April

VIRGINIA BEACH—The fourth Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit will bring together urban farmers, gardeners, foodies, policymakers and government leaders to learn more about one of agriculture’s fasting-growing sectors.

The summit will be held April 23-25 at the Founders Inn and Spa and will include workshops on a variety of topics.

Participants will hear keynote remarks from Dr. Jewel Bronaugh, Virginia commissioner of agriculture and consumer services; Duron Chavis, manager of community engagement for Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond; Shelley Blades, farm manager and executive director of Lynchburg Grows; and Curtis Moody, community garden coordinator for Moody Street Garden of Newport News.

The summit also will include tours of local school gardens, community gardens, greenhouses and farmers’ markets.

Registration is $150 and is limited to 150 registrants. For more information and to register, visit ext.vsu.edu/vuas-conference-venue.