VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Gov. Glenn Youngkin spent the day learning about emerging technology in agriculture in Virginia Beach.

He said the future of the largest industry in the Commonwealth is bright, and he especially feels that way after speaking with future leaders of the industry.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture said there’s nearly 400,000 working in agriculture across the Commonwealth.

“This is critical not just for Virginia employment and Virginia’s economic growth,” Youngkin said, “but it’s critical for Virginia’s food supply and it’s critical for the nation’s food supply and it’s critical for the world’s food supply. This is an extraordinary expression of not only the work that all of you do, but the quality of what’s being grown in Virginia means, and that allows us to do more work and open up more markets.”

Youngkin said that speaks volumes about the quality of what’s being grown in the state and where Virginia can go from here.

“It’s actually performing better in some testing than petroleum-based products,” said Dinwiddie County soybean farmer and United Soybean board member Susan Watkins, “and Goodyear has made a commitment that by 2040, all their tires will be made with soybean oil.”

Soybeans from across the Commonwealth are helping the wheels go round.

One of Virginia’s top agricultural exports globally is proving to be a good substitute for petroleum-based oil in tires.

“This provides great demand for our Virginia grown product, as well as a very sustainable product that everyone can use,” said Champlain, Virginia soybean farmer and United Soybean board director Shannon Ellis.

“This is a giant market when you think about it, how many tires are produced in the United States?” Youngkin said. “The fact that soybean oil is better, it’s a better ingredient than normal crude oil, that in fact, it provides better performance, in particularly in the winter time, and all of a sudden we see a brand new market.”

Youngkin said this is a giant market with huge growth potential.

“Just think about a Coke can-size of soybean oil going into every single automobile tire manufactured in America, that’s where this can go,” Youngkin said.

Virginia’s agricultural and forestry exports globally were valued at more than 5-billion dollars in 2022, which is a new record for the state.

“I’m so excited to watch, just like Commissioner (Joseph) Guthrie and Secretary (Matthew) Lohr have on their cars, every Virginian to have a tire on their car that has soybeans in it, soybeans grown right here in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Youngkin said.

Youngkin said coming together to talk about emerging technology at the Virginia Ag Expo is huge, from drone technology all the way to advances in seeds and pesticides.

He said the key, though, is the next generation.

“Him recognizing our leadership means so much to us” said 2023 Virginia FFA President Kelcey Weston. “Being able to show the future of agriculture and what it’s all about is so empowering.”

State FFA Vice President Anne Katheryn Martz said it was great to meet someone who is as passionate as she is about the future.

“It gives me hope,” Martz said. “It gives me a lot of hope for where we can take this industry because all the work that he does, all the work that everyone does here is just amazing and obviously we wouldn’t be here without agriculture so it’s cool to see he has the same passions that I do.”

The Virginia Ag Expo is the largest agricultural field day held in the Commonwealth. It’s been 10 years since the last expo was held at Land of Promise Farms in Virginia Beach.