Agriculture in Westmoreland County
Did you know agriculture is the leading industry in Virginia? Here in Westmoreland County, agriculture is also a very important part of our economy – the total value of agricultural products (excluding timber) sold in 2007 was $25.4 million. This data is from the 2007 Census of Agriculture, a survey of all farms and ranches in the United States conducted every 5 years by the United States Department of Agriculture.
Westmoreland County agriculture is dominated by crops production, which accounts for 96 percent of the total agricultural sales in the county. The major crops being grown include corn (13,100 acres), soybeans (16,300 acres), wheat (8,700), barley (4,600 acres), vegetables (approx. 1,500 acres), and nursery (approx. 1,100 acres). Westmoreland County is unique in the Northern Neck because horticultural crops, especially nursery, fruits, and vegetables, contribute greatly to the total value of agricultural products sold.
Most land in our county is agricultural land – either forestland or crop land. Approximately 57 percent of the total land in the county is woodland, which is an $87.8 million industry (including direct, indirect, and induced impacts) according to data from 2003 IMPLAN. Thirty-one percent of land is being farmed with crops or livestock. Of the remaining 12 percent, half is water. As you can see, other land uses in the county account for a very small percentage of the total land.
There are 171 farms in the county ranging in size from a few acres to over 1,000 acres. The average farm size is 374 acres although most farms fall into the 50 to 179 acre range. Over thirty-five farming operations farm more than 500 acres. Again, these numbers show the diversity of the crops being grown in the county.
What does a farmer look like in Westmoreland County? Perhaps you know a few. The average age of a farmer in our county is 56, which is just one year under the national average. About 50 percent farm full-time. There are a growing number of female primary operators; currently 15 percent of our farmers are female. Another trend we are experiencing in the county is a growing number of Hispanic farmers. An educated guess is that 9 percent of the farmers are Hispanic and 14 percent are African American.
Where do all the agricultural products produced in the county go? A lot of grain in the county is brought to grain elevators in the Northern Neck. Some grain is brought to mills to produce pasta or other goods. Many fruits and vegetables are sold at farmers markets across the state, especially in Northern Virginia. Some produce is sold to restaurants, schools and hospitals or to wholesale distributors.
As you can see, agriculture is an important part of our local economy. Our farmers work hard to produce food for the nation to eat. Be sure to thank your local farmer! For more information on agriculture in the county, contact my office at 493-8924.
Stephanie Romelczyk is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for Virginia Cooperative Extension in Westmoreland County.