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Agribusiness still growing for Commissioner Weathers

Agribusiness Sector leadership visit downtown Walterboro with a message of growth. David Anderson, Derrick Phinney, Jack Shuler, Hugh Weathers and columnist Jeff Dennis. Photo by Michelle Davis

Many times farmers have no set number of hours built into a workday. During peak times like planting or harvesting of crops, they have a job to do and are often only limited by daylight, so they may work from dawn until dusk. Those who represent the interests of S.C. farmers were working late last Friday afternoon, February 27 when Ag Commissioner Hugh Weathers and friends came to Walterboro to promote the economic impacts of Agribusiness.

Hugh Weathers is a fourth-generation farmer from Orangeburg County, and he began serving as the State of South Carolina’s Department of Agriculture Commissioner in 2004. His family farm’s dairy tradition paved the way for him to enter the S.C. Dairy Hall of Fame in 2011, and he speaks with affinity of Crescent Dairy that recently relocated into Colleton County. Everything from the feed purchased for the dairy cows to the delivery of all milk products falls under the category of Agribusiness.

This catch all phrase was reintroduced in 2008 when Weathers directed a new look into Agribusiness, which is now a combination of all farming and all forestry interests. “All things outdoors and nature-based fit my definition for Agribusiness, from planting to consumption,” said Weathers. “In 2008 we saw a $34 billion dollar impact on the economy and we launched a plan to grow that to $50 billion by the year 2020.”

“We figure there are 212,000-jobs related to Agribusiness in S.C., and using the 2014 economy numbers we see that Agribusiness has grown to a $42 billion dollar impact,” said Weathers. “We want to continue to use a mindset that promotes our brightest and best products so that we can continue to grow the rural economy.” Some of these farming operations existed in S.C. before 2009, but some have been brought into the Palmetto State via recruiting efforts, which are a part of Weathers’ plan.

Many residents have heard of the Certified S.C. Grown program, which helps small farmers produce and market a crop. The Fresh On The Menu program is another successful program that should work well with the new Colleton Kitchen in Walterboro, all of which falls under the Agribusiness umbrella. Weathers’ team, this day, included Jack Shuler, the President of the Palmetto Agribusiness Council; David Anderson, with Chernoff Newman Marketing; and Derrick Phinney with the Clemson Extension Office in St. George.

“South Carolina has a diverse basket of agricultural products, and with the world economy much improved over the past three years, our ag exports are really increasing,” said Weathers. “We are at a point where we want small farmers to take their next steps, because all big farms started out as small farms. When small farmers bring more options to market such as organic blueberries of grass fed beef, then consumers win because they have better choices for their individual lifestyles.

Discussing a few of the bright spots for farmers we talked about peanuts, peaches and potatoes. Did you know that S.C. grows more peaches than Georgia, but somehow our southern neighbor retains the title of being The Peach State. S.C.’s peanut market is increasing against Georgia too, with the Virginia peanuts grown in S.C. popular as salted-in-the-shell roasted peanuts – the kind that are a staple at sporting events. Hugh Weathers states that peanut drying facilities are popping up in places like Elloree, Bowman and Ulmer due to increased peanut production, all of which is attributable to Agribusiness.

When I asked Weathers about the new potato farm near Aiken that has placed potential new demands on the water levels of the Edisto River his message was that the Walther family potato farm had his full support. “This farm came to S.C. because we have the right soil and the right climate here to grow potatoes. They were within their legal rights to withdraw a certain amount of river water for agricultural purposes; but, when the public spoke up about conservation, the Walther family compromised by using less water.” With the ACE Basin dependant on freshwater flowing down the Edisto River, the issue of water withdrawals will continue to rise like river levels after a rain.

Irrigation of crops for food production is certainly a necessity during dry times, and the Agriculture Department presents graphs showing how water use efficiency is much improved over the time frame from 1980 to 2012. Computers can now monitor soil moisture and modern irrigation systems like the ones at the Williams Farm in Western Colleton County which are a look into the modern world of crop farming where water control is down to a science.

Colleton County’s roots run deep with agricultural heritage and rural resources, including a lasting imprint from both timber and farming. Perhaps the new business sector of Agritourism would be a good fit for Colleton County farms. Whether looking for the S.C. Agritourism Association or more information about the resources provided by the Department of Agriculture visit the Internet at www.agriculture.sc.gov.

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (154 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com