Pet food industry boosts economic activity in Virginia

Virginia News
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IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR PETSMART CHARITIES – Pallets of pet food donations are staggered for distribution during a PetSmart Charities and Feeding America Food delivery on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in San Antonio. (Darren Abate/AP Images for PetSmart Charities)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new study has revealed that Virginia residents are spending big on pet food, and it’s paying off for the commonwealth’s farmers.

According to a release from the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, 67% of U.S. households own at least one pet. Collectively, pet owners spend more than $30 billion each year to feed their four-legged friends, resulting in high demand for the ingredients that go into such food for cats and dogs.

In a March 2020 report, the Institute for Feed Education and Research, the North American Renderers Association and the Pet Food Institute found that pet manufacturers purchase $6.9 billion of ingredients each year from farmers and farm-product processors for food that will eventually end up in the bowls of household cats and dogs.

Hanover County-based Engel Family Farms grows corn, soybeans and other crops in more than 14 counties. (Photo: Olivia Jaquith)

Virginia was one of several states identified in the study as having more than $100 million in pet food ingredient purchases.

“Pet food processing is a significant component of Virginia’s agricultural portfolio and benefits Virginia farmers,” Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Senior Assistant Director of Agriculture, Development and Innovation Tony Banks said.

According to the report, the commonwealth’s 12 pet food processors spent $129.6 million on ingredients from farms and farm product processors in 2018 alone.

“Two of the larger pet food ingredient categories are animal protein and animal fat. Chicken is the top animal protein ingredient, which benefits Virginia’s chicken industry and growers,” Banks said. “Beef, turkey, lamb, dairy whey and fish protein and fats also are major ingredient sources that we produce here in Virginia.”

The study showed that those ingredient purchases generated upstream economic activity in the state, including $86.2 million by farmers and $68.3 million by farm product processors for items used to produce the ingredients like seeds, labor and machinery.

The pet food industry also has a significant impact on corn. The study found that corn and corn gluten are the dominant plant-based ingredients used in pet food, with almost 1.3 million tons of corn and 476,649 tons of corn gluten meal used nationally. This is another ingredient to which Virginia farmers contribute.

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