It’s easy to be proud of the agriculture industry in South Carolina.

Crop projections for 2017 are extremely strong, even after stints of devastating weather.

A new pilot program will give some farmers in our state the opportunity for crop diversification.

And a new promotional campaign tells the story of our hardworking farmers and our delicious local food.

From the overwhelming crop and property loss from the hurricane in 2016 to the freeze that devastated crops in early 2017, South Carolina’s agriculture has shown its resiliency again.

According to peach farmers, the freeze that occurred in March caused the worst crop damage they have witnessed in the past decade. Farmers were hopeful to have 10 to 15 percent of their usual crop. Strawberry and blueberry farmers suffered severe damage as well.

Fortunately, the market stayed steady and a majority of farmers finished strong with late-variety crops.

The current reports and future projections for the 2017 corn, cotton, peanut and soybean crops are impressive. Almost 350,000 acres of corn were planted and farmers harvested 120 to 130 bushels per acre on average.

Some T&D Region numbers were well above 200 bushels.

Cotton farmers planted 250,000 acres, and, for the first time, the UDSA’s rating of this year’s cotton crop is 98 percent good to excellent.

The estimated production of the peanut crop is 234,000 tons, nearly a 34 percent increase from 2016. The state average is about 3,400 pounds per acre, but many locations will exceed 4,000 pounds.

Soybean farmers have planted around 450,000 acres, and, from the looks of the fields that I pass by in rural South Carolina, harvests will be the best we’ve seen in years.

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture plays an important role in growing economic development in our state, and the industrial hemp pilot program is a new opportunity for farmers to expand crop diversity and grow productivity.

Gov. Henry McMaster signed Bill 3559 into law, making it legal for 20 farmers in South Carolina to grow up to 20 acres each of industrial hemp for research purposes. We received more than 130 applications for permits and will announce the recipients in mid-November.

I am optimistic about hemp as an addition to our crop mix and look for positive yields with this new pilot program.

Many residents of South Carolina recognize the Certified SC Grown brand; our latest research put the recognition by consumers at nearly 80 percent. I am proud of this branding program that has helped farmers around the state receive recognition for their high-quality crops, as well as open new opportunities for them. Certified SC Grown celebrates its 10-year anniversary in 2017, and to celebrate the milestone, we’re expanding the brand with a new campaign “Roots.”

Do you know the roots of the food you eat? Our “Roots” campaign celebrates South Carolina’s rich agrarian history and evokes a sense of nostalgia and pride for a wide range of produce and products. New television spots and print pieces showcase men and women who are proud to be South Carolina farmers.

Simply put, the “Roots” campaign is about celebrating our farming history and innovation, buying fresh, locally grown food and supporting local farmers. You’ll start seeing this campaign in mid-November. You can go to the website certifiedscgrown.com/farmers to see the producers featured in the new campaign, with three of them right here in The T&D Region.

It’s an honor and privilege to serve as your commissioner of agriculture and to help agriculture in South Carolina expand and thrive. The future of agriculture in our state is challenging but filled with opportunities.

For more information about the programs and services of the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, visit www.agriculture.sc.gov.

Hugh Weathers of Bowman is S.C. commissioner of agriculture.

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