THE ISSUE: Agribusiness
OUR VIEW: World realities present growth opportunities in S.C.
Clemson University now has a program that is teaching people who have never been farmers to become involved in the world of agribusiness. Twenty-seven people graduated this year from the first class of Clemson's New and Beginning Farmer program.
S.C. New and Beginning Farmer is a statewide multi-agency partnership supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture/U.S. Department of Agriculture. Other key organizations are involved, including the S.C. Department of Agriculture and S.C. Farm Bureau.
Directed by Clemson's R. David Lamie, an associate professor and Extension specialist, the program aims to grow sound business managers, environmental stewards and successful marketers. The New Farmer program provides the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful entrepreneurs.
It is the way of a new world. Farmers can no longer be defined by traditional definitions. Today there are people, so-called newbies and seasoned farmers, looking to diversify.
Few would consider Charleston physician George Taylor and his wife, Betty, and their partners - friends from a local church - as traditional farmers. But they started a nonprofit farm called Sweetgrass Garden Co-op about a year ago.
George Taylor purchased the land, which he leases to the co-op for $1 a year. The farm's produce helps feed local hunger-relief homeless agencies. The plan is for Sweetgrass Garden to sell part of its produce to cover expenses.
"I love the idea of feeding the homeless," Snyder said. "Growing food to feed the homeless is even better."
Beyond such non-traditional pursuits by those learning farming, there is ample reason to look at agriculture with great profit potential.
Writing on our Farm page in Monday's Times and Democrat, Clemson University agronomy professor emeritus J.H. Palmer makes the case that agribusiness is a growth industry for South Carolina based on demand for food, feed, fiber and biofuels.
He cites the following:
* Countries around the world that have growth economies and booming populations (e.g., China and India) need food, primarily feed grains, cotton and certain other commodities that U.S. farmers can produce efficiently for export. Also, domestic demand for feed grains, especially in the livestock and poultry industries, continues to grow.
* Due to the high cost of crude oil, which resulted in gas prices of more than $4 per gallon at one point, demand for domestic renewable energy sources has grown.
* Biodiesel, which uses oil from soybeans, is becoming big business. Prices of feed grains have soared, making some farmers "richer than Wall Street bankers," according to Time magazine.
"What if high commodity prices remained steady and our farmers increased their feed grain (soybeans, corn and wheat) and cotton acreage significantly over the next five to 10 years to a level not seen since the ‘80s? Can you imagine what the economic impact would be on the rural economies of the region? Towns like Darlington, Marion, Manning, St. Matthews, Orangeburg, Sumter, Kingstree, Bamberg and Hampton would once more be home to agribusinesses selling farm equipment, crop chemicals, seed and fertilizer. Jobs would be abundant for local folks and others who may move there to assist farmers," Palmer writes.
And his bottom line: "More food is going to be required to feed the world; feed grains, in particular, are increasingly in demand as developed countries consume more meat - especially fish, poultry and pork; the demand for cotton is robust and will increase over the years as foreign countries export more finished goods to the United States and Europe; and other farm commodities like peaches, peanuts, poultry and fresh vegetables should also see improving markets - especially domestically.
"... Job opportunities in agriculture will increase ... (and) agriculture will become a sure bet as a ‘growth' industry."