Virginia ag exports soar - and Youngkin's still selling

Virginia agriculture exports rose to $5.1 billion last year, from $4.07 billion in 2021 and $3.22 billion in 2020.

China is the state’s biggest agriculture market, buying $1.45 billion worth of products last year. Soybeans and soybean meal are the state’s top exports, followed by pork.

“It’s pretty cool,” Youngkin said, after touring the facility and playing what he said was his favorite role: chief marketing officer for the state, as he pitched the idea of a fourth elevator to Gavin Bradshaw, Omaha-based Scoular’s lead merchant for international grains and oilseeds.

He liked what he saw of Richmond’s port, he said.

“We just need to double the capacity. And sell, sell, sell,” he added.

Facilities like Richmond’s terminal — though no longer a port of call for sea-going ships like the Icelandic carrier that used to come because Virginia apples were so popular in that North Atlantic nation — play a critical role in knitting the state together, Youngkin said.

Like the port authority’s groundbreaking inland port at Front Royal, the terminal allows the wharves of Hampton Roads to reach deep into the countryside, he said, adding that the state is looking seriously at another inland export-import facility in Southwest Virginia.

“I talk to businesses that aren’t here yet every day,” he said. “And they can feel comfortable locating in Southside, in Southwest Virginia on the I-81 corridor, in central Virginia because they can have access to a transportation infrastructure that’s second to none.”

Farm and forest products are a staple at the Richmond port, said Virginia Port Authority chief executive officer Stephen A. Edwards.

The authority’s thrice-weekly barge service means it is easy for the state’s farmers to reach international markets, he said.

Each of Scoular’s elevators holds 18,000 to 20,000 bushels of grain, and most of what they do is empty semi-trailers full of grain, which takes as little as 5 or 6 minutes, and then load thousands of bushels at a time into 40-foot long shipping containers. Farmers also bring loads in pickup trucks, Richmond terminal manager Christina Saunders told Youngkin.

Edwards said the port authority is planning improvements to speed the flow of cargo at Richmond, including new steel fenders to replace the aging and cracked wooden ones on its 1,570-foot long wharf.

That will allow the terminal to work two barges at the same time — and Edwards is hoping to boost that three-times-a-week service to a six times a week.

In addition, the authority is making a drop zone for truckers, so they do not have to wait in line at the main security gate to deliver their containers. The idea is for the terminal to run a shuttle service transporting containers from the drop zone through the gate to be staged for loading on the barges, saving time and money for the long-haul trucks.