The number of cattle, hogs, chickens, turkeys and sheep in Virginia grew slightly last year, based on the 2009 rankings of principal crops and livestock just released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Virginia office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

But the big news is that soybeans were the state’s most valuable field crop last year, hop-scotching over corn and winter wheat to No. 1 from their third-place ranking in 2008.

"The prices have been good for soybeans the last couple of years, and beans don’t require quite as many inputs," said grower Robert Spiers, a Dinwiddie County Farm Bureau member. "For instance, they don’t need as much nitrogen since they’re a legume.

"The other factor is that peanuts have gone out in parts of Virginia. I’m not raising as many peanuts, and peanuts and soybeans aren’t good in the same rotation. So that’s freed up some good land for soybean production."

Soybeans also are more drought-resistant than corn, and Virginia’s corn crop was devastated by drought this year, Spiers said.

Is this a permanent shift for soybeans? The state’s top row crop changes often, and soybeans have been No. 1 before, as recently as 2007. "It’s hard to make a comparison from one year to the next when the factors of price and weather and production practices all have a role in those rankings," explained David Coleman,Virginia Farm Bureau Federation grain manager.

There are some other interesting trends to observe from the annual report. While soybeans ranked first in cash receipts at $184 million, corn did manage to hold onto second place with receipts of $118 million. Tobacco was third with nearly $81 million in cash receipts, winter wheat dropped from second to fourth with receipts of $69 million, and fresh market tomatoes jumped to fifth with receipts of $63 million. That compares to about $50 million for tomatoes in 2008.

Also noteworthy is that the state’s greenhouse and nursery industry continued its fast growth, outranking all field crops, with cash receipts of $261 million. The broiler chicken sector remained the largest, with receipts totaling $550 million, followed by cattle and calves at $287 million, milk at $264 million and then the greenhouse and nursery industry. Turkeys ranked fifth in the state overall, with receipts of $215 million last year, compared to $271 million in 2009.