Smyth County cattle farmer exploring possibility of selling directly to China

Umbarger in his meetings with China.

Cattle is the lifeblood of agriculture in southwest Virginia. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the most recent count of cattle exports in Smyth, Scott, Russell and Washington Counties adds up to nearly $163,000,000.

Senior Agriculture Agent in Smyth County Andy Overbay says agriculture is the region's top industry and cattle is its number one product.

"It's a lot of money and you have to remember that's just four counties," Overbay says. "That doesn't include Tazwell County and all the counties that surround us."

Seth Umbarger is a fifth generation cattle farmer in Smyth County who says he's already maximized his profits selling to American vendors.

"I can't buy any more land and I can't lease any more land so we need to get everything we can out of the cattle we have," Umbarger, the owner of Laurel Springs Farm in Marion, Virginia, says.

That's when it hit Umbarger that he may have to look overseas. China lifted its ban on U.S. beef in 2017 and it's a premium market, so Umbarger thought he could possibly make more money if he sold his cattle to them directly.

"They want high quality beef and that's all we have here," Umbarger says.

To find out if his theory could work, Umbarger went on a 10-day trip to China in May with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. He says the trip was a success and he's already formulating a timeline to put his findings into action.

"I have tons of contacts and I figured out what quantities they want and what cuts they want," he says. "Now it's just about getting everything in place, all the paperwork done and being verified to export."

Umbarger says he could start selling his product to China as early as next year, and if it happens, he'll be the first southwest Virginia farmer to ever export directly to China.

For more information on Umbarger, his farm, and their products, click here. Laurel Springs Farms is very active on social media, so if you have any questions, send them a message and ask for Courtney.

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