WILLIAMSBURG -- Next year will be good for Virginia farmers, particularly those who grow fruits, vegetables, grain and soybeans, and those who raise hogs and cattle, agriculture specialists predicted last week.

Agronomists, marketing agents and business leaders, speaking at the annual conference of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said the market looks particularly strong for apples, broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes.

In addition, the demand for grain and soybeans is rising as imports level off, and the state's lucrative pork and beef markets are very strong, they said.

However, tobacco and peanut markets are flat going into the new year, they said.

Virginia ranks fifth in apple production, but its farmers generally receive better prices than growers in three of the states that rank above it, said Ken Nye, director of the American Farm Bureau Federation's horticulture department.

The difference is largely because Virginia relies on the market for canned fruit, he said. By comparison, farmers in Washington, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan sell more to the fresh apple and juice markets.

"But the juice market is a growing sector in the nation's apple industry and we're importing more apples for that than we're using domestic sources," he said. He suggested that Virginia farmers expand into the market, but not abandon their traditional emphasis on canned markets.

The future for vegetable growers is in the fresh market, said Bill Mapp, an agricultural marketing agent with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Canned and frozen markets are flat, he said.

Mapp encouraged farmers to consider growing cauliflower and broccoli because demand for the state's traditional vegetables -- potatoes, cucumbers and string beans -- is leveling off