Agriculture and forestry continue to play an important but decreasing role in the Planning District's economy. With the current economic conditions, farmers continue to struggle with high production costs and lower commodity pricing. The Region, which has been a leading producer of flue-cured tobacco and dairy products in the Commonwealth of Virginia, also has experienced changes in the agricultural component of its economic base due to changes in regulations and the elimination of tobacco quotas in 2004. With regard to tobacco, Pittsylvania County in the West Piedmont Region has been the top producer in the Commonwealth and the thirteenth largest in the United States. As Virginia adjusts to a smaller tobacco industry, the key factor will be alternative uses available for land, labor, and capital that were used in tobacco production. In terms of dairy, Franklin County is ranked second in the Commonwealth. The Region still relies heavily on the agricultural sector.
Agribusiness is a large part of the agricultural-based economy. Promoting agritourism, many farms and wineries in the Region host tours and other events to attract visitors. Agribusiness is a huge industry with many facets such as wineries and breweries; farm tours; livestock, dairy, and tobacco farms; aquaculture; forestry; orchards and nurseries; bio-energy; and many other sectors. In addition, innovative energy production with biomass facilities have been springing up in the Region, particularly in the Danville and Pittsylvania County area. Many of these green energy facilities convert plant (switch grass, tobacco) and timber byproducts to fuel. In 2013, Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, UVA, published "Growing Agribusiness: The Contribution and Development Potential of Agriculture and Forest Industry in the Danville Metropolitan Area." This study examines trends in the area's changing size and composition of the agribusiness sector, in particular. As stated within the study, "Agribusiness is defined as farms, nurseries and timber tracts, and any business that harvests, processes, manufactures, generates power from, or warehouses and distributes products with a strong agriculture or forest raw material or product input component."
The economic impact of local foods is another aspect of agriculture. Not only does this spurn economic development, but the benefits of local foods goes further - providing health benefits, knowing where our food comes from, increasing community capacity and connectivity, and preservation/stewardship of the land. As reported in a 2011 publication from the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University, "A Community-Based Food System: Building Health, Wealth, Connection, and Capacity as the Foundation of Our Economic Future," Local Food Systems can establish a network of agricultural producers, value-added product entrepreneurs, farmers markets, restaurants, schools, universities, hospitals, and other institutions that would utilize locally produced products. This study was developed for the Martinsville, Henry County, and Patrick County region as an initiative of the Harvest Foundation, the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce, the Reynolds Homestead, the Economic Development Authority of Patrick County, and the Virginia Cooperative Extension. However, the study area for this report encompassed the cities of Danville and Martinsville and the counties of Henry, Patrick, Carroll, Floyd, Franklin, and Pittsylvania in Virginia, and Caswell and Rockingham counties in North Carolina.
Within the district are many sawmills and logging operations as well as furniture, flooring, and cabinet manufacturers. Forestry contributes to the Region’s economy through a number of jobs and business operations. A June 2013 publication, "The Economic Impacts of Agriculture and Forest Industries in Virginia," by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, UVA, provides more insight on the economic impact of this industry. The Virginia Department of Forestry also tracks a great deal of information on forestry services.
Detailed agriculture data is available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Census of Agriculture which is conducted every 5 years. The Census includes the number of farms by size and type, inventory and values for crops and livestock, operator characteristics, information on specialty crops, and much more. The most recent census survey was done in 2012, with State and County Profiles available.