Letter – Suffolk isn’t average: Look at its agricultural numbers

Published 4:06 pm Tuesday, December 13, 2022


At the end of a November City Council working session, Mayor Duman noted that:  Suffolk isn’t average, we are not a one-size-fits-all type community … we need good information to help make decisions.

I applaud these comments that were in response to the 2045 Comprehensive Plan update given by a hired consultant.


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I’d like to expand on a few notable elements from this presentation, specifically regarding agriculture.

For reference, Suffolk has more than 70,000 acres of active farmland and close to 250 farms that generate more than $55 million in annual revenue, according to the USDA Agriculture Census.

Impressively, out of 98 counties at the state level, Suffolk ranks sixth overall for crop production.  We come in at ninth for grain and soy, third for cotton, and second for hay production.  On a national level, our greenhouse and flower production rank in the top 7%.  Suffolk poultry, egg, and hog production also rank near 20% nationally.  We should be proud of our ability to produce.

During the same working session, the consultant compared Suffolk with Savannah, Charlotte, Charleston and Richmond, despite each having very different economies and larger populations than Suffolk. For example, Charlotte is near nine times our population.

But since we are doing a comparison, using the same agriculture data previously referenced, Suffolk generates higher revenues and has higher rankings than all four of those referenced cities, combined!  Who would have thought little old Suffolk would make such a big impact in a sector that gets so little attention from an economic and planning perspective.

When I hear planners talk about development, they say we need to “balance” growth with the existing rural presence. The word “balance” sounds neutral, but it is completely misleading. You can build a subdivision or a warehouse almost anywhere. But you can’t just start a farm anywhere.

Suffolk is home to thousands of acres of prime, productive farmland. Once a farm is covered with concrete and asphalt, it’s a multi-generational loss.

Suffolk is a leader in agriculture. Let’s embrace that and not compromise it in exchange for the latest fad. Let’s stick to our heritage – it’s what got the city to where it is today.

Moving forward, we need better data to inform what truly benefits the city and protects the productive industries that are already here. I encourage City Council to ask for the complete data and not just accept the superficial summaries provided in staff reports. If there isn’t enough time to review the information, change the process so you have more time. Details matter and, in the end, what’s at stake for all of us is everything.
Bryan Harris