South Carolina well-positioned to grow agriculture by 2020: Part III

So how does agriculture move from $42 billion to $50 billion in economic activity as South Carolina’s agribusiness leaders say they hope to do by the year 2020?

“Just like Spencer (Black, president of the Southern Crop Production Association) said earlier, there are so many challenges out there, but there are also many opportunities,” says Hugh Weathers, South Carolina’s commissioner of agriculture.

“I think we have a good foundation in this state to move our industry forward,” said Weathers, a sixth-generation farmer in South Carolina, who spoke at the Southern Crop Production Association’s annual meeting in Charleston.

He said he believes the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, in particular, is positioned for the future. “We have a good, young, passionate, aggressive and talented staff to help execute the programs we want to do on behalf of agriculture. I’ve been there 11 years, and I’ve seen a great change in the mission of the department in working with advocates for the industry.”

The leadership extends beyond the Department of Agriculture to institutions such as Clemson University. Clemson has a different role in South Carolina than the land-grant universities in many states in that it performs the regulatory functions usually reserved to the agriculture departments.

Although it’s different, Weathers said the setup functions well in South Carolina because it allows the agriculture department to focus on promoting South Carolina’s farmers and agricultural products through such efforts as the Certified SC Grown branding program operated by the department.

“In that odd arrangement, we work more closely with the land-grant university than do other departments of agriculture, and our land-grant university has a great new farm team in place,” said Weathers.

Clemson is undergoing a transformation having hired a new president, dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences and new leaders of the South Carolina Extension Service and the university’s network of research stations.

“These are men who have come from some sort of farming background, and they understand what this industry is faced with and the challenges that we have,” Weathers noted. “So I’m very pleased that our land-grant university is providing great leadership.”

Changes are also coming in the South Carolina Farm Bureau where David Winkles Jr., is retiring as president at the end of 2015. “I think they have some great candidates (to replace him), again, with a forward-looking attitude about our industry.

“Beyond that, we have to execute,” says Weathers. “We have to transition this industry through some of the challenges and execute on behalf of our farmers.”

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