US-Japan interim agreement called big win for Virginia farmers

Virginia farmers stand to benefit from the recently signed U.S.-Japan interim trade agreement.

The agreement will lower or completely cut tariffs for many agricultural products, including fresh and frozen beef and pork, according to a statement from the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

Ben Rowe, national affairs coordinator for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, described the deal as a positive step for farmers. “At $13 billion a year, Japan is already the fourth-largest buyer of U.S. agricultural products, despite an average tariff of more than 17%. With a lower tariff, thanks to the trade deal, we expect our agricultural exports to grow.”

The agreement immediately eliminates tariffs for almonds, walnuts, blueberries, cranberries, sweet corn, grain sorghum and broccoli.

In addition to the reduction or elimination of many agriculture-related tariffs, Japan also has placed the U.S. on the same tariff status as the European Union and nations that signed onto the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Partnership (CPTPP). Rowe said that part of the agreement will help U.S. farmers compete globally.

“For example, the whopping 38.5% tariff currently on U.S. beef will fall to the 26% placed on beef from Australia, Canada and the EU. Some other foods such as duck, geese, turkey, peaches, melons and more would enter duty-free,” Rowe said.

When the interim trade agreement is implemented, the trade office said, over 90% of U.S. food and agricultural products imported into Japan will be duty-free or receive preferential tariff access.

The agreement was signed Sept. 25 by President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe while the two leaders attended the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City. It must be ratified by the Japanese Parliament and could take effect by Jan. 1, 2020.

Va. shellfish aquaculture market still strong for clams, oysters

GLOUCESTER POINT—Prices and markets for Virginia shellfish products remain strong as the state’s aquaculture market continues to grow.

The farm gate value for the state’s shellfish aquaculture was $53.3 million in 2018, according to the 2019 Virginia Shellfish Aquaculture Situation and Outlook Report published by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The report found hard clams are the biggest economic contributor, and Virginia leads the U.S. in hard clam production. Oysters are the fastest-developing sector of Virginia’s shellfish aquaculture, and the commonwealth is ranked first for Eastern U.S. oyster production.

Though the market is strong, some hatchery and oyster production numbers showed a slight decrease in 2018. There was a 6% drop in planted oysters from 2017 and 8% less than initially projected for 2018. Despite this, shellfish growers remain optimistic.

“I don’t think the decline is indicative of the direction the industry is going,” said Mike Oesterling, executive director of Virginia Shellfish Growers Association. “The market is still exceptionally strong, leading the East Coast, and shellfish products are in great demand.”

Shellfish aquaculture has faced its share of challenges. Excessive rainfall and high water temperatures tend to restrict growth in the summer, which contributes to lower sales.

“We deal with Mother Nature on a daily basis, so it’s not surprising when we see ups and downs,” said Oesterling. “Shellfish aquaculture is one of the industries where, if you increase production, there’s a positive impact on the environment, especially by reducing sediment, reducing nitrogen and phosphorous and keeping the bay and Eastern Shore waters clean.”

Although weather affected shellfish production and sales in 2018, demand remains strong for Virginia clams and oysters, according to Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Clam growers reported a 64% increase in seed plantings during 2018, to a total of 503.7 million clams. That represents is a 41% increase in the outlook from 2017, the report notes.

The outlook for Virginia’s shellfish aquaculture market is positive, and growers can expect the coming years to remain stable as participants alter their production based on the market.

“Virginia's history and reputation for producing quality shellfish, coupled with the local food movement, bode well for a continued bright future,” Banks said.

Winter squash season lasts well into December

WARRENTON—It may be fall, but winter squash season has begun, according to gardening expert Jim Hankins.

Most varieties can be stored for months, instead of days like their summer squash cousins. Although technically a fruit, squash usually is prepared and served as a vegetable.

“The term winter squash means that it is a produce that will keep until the wintertime; not something raised in the winter,” explained Hankins, executive director of the Fauquier Education Farm.

Hankins offered growing tips for winter squash on an episode of “From the Ground Up,” a gardening segment on Real Virginia, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s weekly television program. It can be viewed at bit.ly/2lOEN0s.

Hankins noted that gardeners should let winter squash vines start to die back before harvesting. “Because this is a squash that is going to be stored for months, you want it to get that really rich brown or tan color. Butternut squash shouldn’t still be green or still have streaks on it. Then it will store a whole lot better.”

More than a dozen varieties of winter squash are grown and readily available this time of year. In 2018 Hankins grew spaghetti, carnival, butternut, acorn, cushaw and delicate squash varieties.

Whether you raise winter squash yourself or purchase it for eating later in the year, Hankins suggested storing it carefully.

“You want to keep them out of direct sunlight, cool and dry. Don’t put them in your refrigerator; they’ll just mold there,” he warned. “Put them in a cabinet out of direct sunlight, and they’ll keep for months.”

Landowners can learn how to make and sell syrup

BLACKSBURG—Two workshops are planned for Southwest Virginia woodlot owners who want to tap into the market for local syrup.

A tree sap and syrup production workshop will be held Nov. 16 and 17 at the Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center. Topics covered will include tapping black walnut trees, establishing a tubing system on a maple tree stand and selling syrup at farmers’ markets. For more information, contact Adam Taylor, 540-588-0283 or adamht@vt.edu.

The Southwest Virginia Tree Syrup School will be held Nov. 22 at South Fork Farm near Pound and Nov. 23 at the Oxbow Center in St. Paul. Educational sessions will be offered for new and experienced maple syrup producers, along with instruction on backyard tapping and syrup making. For more information, contact Phil Meeks, 276-328-6194 or pmeeks@vt.edu.

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