RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Virginia agricultural exports reached a record $2.61 billion in 2012, with China's hunger for primarily soybeans and grains accounting for the biggest share of the state's farm products.
The export numbers were released Thursday as the Governor's Conference on Agricultural Trade began a two-day run, attracting producers, U.S. and international trade leaders, agricultural representatives and port officials. The 2012 trade figure was up by 12 percent from 2011, which increased by 11 percent from the previous year.
Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore said the 2012 milestone represents a big return on "the relatively small investments" the state has made in the global marketplace, which had the support of Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly.
"By expanding dramatically our global footprint, Virginia has never been better positioned than we are now to build on these successes and capture new export opportunities in the future as demand grows," Haymore said in a statement.
McDonnell said agricultural exports generate about $1.40 in-state for every $1 shipped to export partners, enriching farmers, foresters and the state's busy port.
"With the trade offices we've established in key global regions and new ones we'll open this year, as well as the trade missions I will conduct later this year, I expect to see Virginia agricultural exports to grow," said McDonnell, who has been a frequent flyer promoting Virginia products in foreign markets.
McDonnell is scheduled to embark on trade missions this year to China and Japan. Since he took office in 2010, McDonnell has courted trading partners in Canada, Great Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, China, South Korea and India, among others.
By far, China is the leading destination for the state's agricultural exports, accounting for more than $638 million in 2012. That's more than double the value of Virginia farm products it purchased in 2011 and they have increased by nearly 230 percent since 2010.
Canada is second with exports totaling more than $205 million, with Morocco third with $139 million worth of Virginia farm products purchased.
The other export destinations reflect a United Nations of countries: Switzerland, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cuba, Mexico, Japan, Poland and Germany, among others.
Some highlights of the export report:
— Virginia's export partners have a big appetite for soybeans. Their export value more than doubled between 2011 and 2012, from $327 million to $734 million.
— The commodity recording the largest percentage growth is wood pellets. They spiked more than 800 percent from 2001 to approximately $35 million. The primary market is the European Union.
— Exports to Cuba peaked at $66 million, making the state the second largest agricultural exporter to Cuba in the U.S.
— The European Union has helped grow the export of Virginia peanuts, from $6.5 million to approximately $17 million.
Agriculture and forestry are the state's largest industries. They have a combined economic impact of $79 billion annually.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sszkotakap