With Governor Terry McAuliffe attending the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Virginia Oyster Trail, the agriculture news, at least for aquaculture, could not come at a better time. The Eastern Shore is already the third largest producer of hard shell clams and oysters on the East Coast, rendering its status as what should be considered ‘most protected’. While aquaculture showed good gains, traditional AG showed some signs of slippage. Much of this may have to do with environmental issues, relative drought conditions, and more land being zoned away from AG more towards residential development.
Here are the numbers:
Soybean production:22.9 million bushels, down 9% from last year.
Yield: 37 bushels/acre which is down 2,5 bushels/acre from last year
Total acres planted in soybeans, 620,000 acres, down 20,000 acres from last year
Grain production:320,000 acres, down 40,000 acres from last year;
Cotton production:150,000 bales, down 32% from last year’
Yield is 857 pounds.acre……down 382 lbs/acre from last year.
Oyster yield:650,000 bushels, up 24% from 2014,the biggest increase in yield in 30 years
In 2003, the yield was only 24,000 bushels
Yield was up 61% from 2012
Dockside value of oysters was $33.8 million last year, up from $22 million the previous yearVIMS estimates that the value added economic benefit from the oyster industry is $89 million, all pumped into the local and regional economy.
While Northampton County Board of Supervisors may be looking for more ways to be “business friendly”, one way would be to protect the aquaculture industry, and the best way to do that is to ensure that our waters remain as clean and clear as possible. Keeping the Bay Act in place on both the seaside and bayside would be a positive first step, while leveraging zoning to limit unnecessary sprawl impervious development. As for agriculture, the majority of the sitting board has stated on record that they want to limit real estate tax incentives that are in place now to encourage landowners to keep their land in active farming, even though land in agriculture actually costs less in county services than developed parcels. Also worrisome is that the new zoning proposes to upzone from agriculture to residential thousands of acres of land currently being farmed, severely limiting the allowable farming uses on these upzoned parcels, while possibly adding invasive uses on farm land that would further diminish their productivity.