Pee Dee hay

Because of flooding from Florence, a significant portion of the hay in the Pee Dee region and part of the Lowcountry was under water.

When I wrote this year-end farming update last year for The Times and Democrat, I was pleased to report crop projections for 2017 were strong, even after stints of devastating weather.

As I’m sure you recall, South Carolina was still reeling from Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Many of our farmers contended with a devastating freeze in early 2017.

There’s no doubt that South Carolina’s farmers are resilient, but I was hoping they wouldn’t be tested by weather again in 2018 the way they had in recent years.

Hurricane Florence obviously had a different idea.

Many farmers near the North Carolina border find themselves in a recovery mode once again.

Luckily, the Orangeburg area was not hit as hard as the northeastern part of the state, but the estimated total cost of $125 million in statewide agricultural damage is significant for all of us, no matter where we live and work.

During a helicopter tour of impacted counties and multiple landings to talk with farmers, I encountered that familiar, determined spirit that is universal among farmers in South Carolina.

When meeting with one farming family, I realized that I had visited them three of the last four years because of weather-related events.

Recently, I met with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue about expediting aid to our farmers. We are fortunate to have Perdue in that top agriculture post. He is a true friend to agriculture and to South Carolina.

Before Florence came to town, farmers throughout the United States were hit with a different kind of storm — trade negotiations involving tariffs.

It seems that agriculture is often the innocent victim when it comes to trade battles, and there’s no doubt that farmers in South Carolina – especially soybean farmers – have felt the affects of this recent dispute.

Once again, Secretary Perdue has been a source of assurance for farmers.

I am encouraged not only by President Donald Trump’s leadership in offering temporary relief options to farmers hit the hardest by the tariffs, but also by the recent U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), which should benefit agricultural trade.

With all of the challenges endured by our farmers this year, there have been successes as well.

Corn, soybean and cotton crop predicted yields are strong, and those parts of South Carolina less affected by Florence have good yields.

Corn harvest has finished up for a while in The T&D Region, and I have heard some yields in the 200-bushel range. Peanuts and cotton are in high gear, but weather could impact that. Doesn’t it always?

Another local crop that’s no longer brand new but is still in its infancy is industrial hemp.

Our first group of hemp growers has, for the most part, completed the inaugural growing season, and three of those farmers are from the Orangeburg area.

Forty farmers will grow hemp in 2019, and I remain hopeful that hemp will be an important crop in South Carolina and will bring new economic development to the rural parts of our state.

Creating new opportunity in rural areas and for farmers is a high priority of the Department of Agriculture.

Early this year we launched ACRE – the Agribusiness Center for Research and Entrepreneurship – which already is making big strides.

We are working with agribusiness entrepreneurs throughout the state who are eager to get their product or service into the marketplace.

We’re also partnering with scientists and researchers who will find new solutions to old challenges in the ag production world. Ultimately ACRE could help attract new companies to South Carolina, and that means more jobs for more people.

Did you know that agribusiness is the state’s largest industry?

We’re working hard to spread that word and to grow the industry.

With an economic impact last measured at $42 billion, we have our eye on the future and have made it our goal to increase that economic impact to $50 billion by 2020. This 50x20 goal guides much of the work we do at SCDA, and achieving this goal will benefit all South Carolinians, not just our farmers.

Are you supporting agriculture and agribusiness in South Carolina?

Let me suggest an easy and delicious way to do your part: look for, buy and eat all the Certified SC produce and products you can find.

The United States imports a significant amount of food, and our farmers pay the price. Ask for Certified in grocery stores and at markets, and dine out at restaurants that participate in our "Fresh on the Menu" program.

Download the apps for Certified and Fresh on the Menu and follow us on social media. You’ll enjoy recipes and reminders of where to buy and eat Certified, delicious food. Some of those recipes come from the best cook I know – my wife Blanche.

After all we’ve been through in agriculture over the last few years, I can still say the future of our industry is bright.

There’s no doubt that we face significant global challenges, like the fact that demand for protein will double worldwide by 2025.

Consumer eating behaviors are changing too, and new production methods are in play.

With challenges there are usually some interesting opportunities, and we’re exploring both in our work at the Department of Agriculture.

Remember, when we talk about the agriculture industry, we’re really just talking about people. People like you and me.

So, we all have a part to grow and enjoy this industry that is so good to South Carolina.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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