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South Carolina acts to reduce farmland loss

South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers says retaining farms and preserving farmland is a must for growing and strengthening South Carolina agriculture.

John Hart, Associate Editor

June 3, 2024

3 Min Read
South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers
South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers speaks at a December 2022 news conference on the economic impact of agribusiness in South Carolina. Joining the commissioner at the State Capitol are Gov. Henry McMaster, University of South Carolina economist Joey Von Nessen, and Forestry Association of South Carolina President Cam Crawford.SCDA

South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers considers the recently signed Working Agricultural Lands Preservation Act to be a significant achievement in helping reduce loss of farmland to development in the Palmetto State. 

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill into law on April 23 that creates a program with the South Carolina Conservation Bank to compensate landowners for conservation easements. The program joins the existing Conservation Bank, which also provides conservation easements to protect farmland from development. 

In an interview with Southeast Farm Press, Weathers says the lands preservation act further strengthens the efforts of the Conservation Bank. Funding for the program is expected to be approved in the new South Carolina state budget that begins July 1. 

“We hope that some additional funding will be coming with a carveout for agricultural conservation easements. In the meanwhile, what we will do is create a review team to look at the agricultural applications and talk about those in the agricultural vernacular then pass it on to the Conservation Bank members with an evaluation of return on investment that those particular easements might provide,” Weathers says. 

Preserving farmland  

Weathers says the lands preservation act, in combination with a land trust recently developed by South Carolina Farm Bureau, will help preserve farmland for future generations as South Carolina shows unprecedented population growth. “The combination of the passage of this legislation and the creation of a farmer-oriented land trust, I think will really step up the activity in the conservation easements that our farmers actually pursue.”  

South Carolina lost more than 280,000 acres of farmland between 2001 and 2016, according to a study by the American Farmland Trust. The preservation act allows farmers to retain full ownership of their land and keep farming, compensating them for not turning over the land to development. 

Weathers says retaining farms and preserving farmland is a must for growing and strengthening South Carolina agriculture, the state’s largest industry. As of 2020, agribusiness had a $51.8 billion impact on South Carolina each year. Agribusiness is responsible for 259,214 jobs and $12.3 billion in annual labor income in the state as of 2020. 

“If you look at the decade from 2010 to 2020, we had nearly a 40% increase in economic impact up to now about $52 billion a year come to South Carolina’s economy because our nearly 24,000 farmers grow things that we consume,” Weathers says.  

“With 23,000 farmers in the state, they produce almost 260,000 jobs to actually get those products from the farm to the final consumer. It points to the partnership of the producer of agriculture and the member of the agribusiness industry.”  

Adding more value to commodities 

Weathers says all agriculture, from production of major row crops, fruits and vegetables to poultry, hogs, and beef, to agritourism, is vital for the state’s economy. He says adding more value to crops and livestock beyond the farmgate is vital for strengthening South Carolina’s economy.  

“Last year in our state budget, we were able to have appropriated a growing agribusiness development fund and our job is to find places where we can incentivize production of South Carolina crops to add more value here in the state so that our farmers get that benefit,” Weathers says. 

Weathers cites money invested in beef processing across South Carolina as one example to process more commodities and add further value to South Carolina agriculture. He said this benefits both beef cattle producers and others along the value chain. 

“By the time you finish that animal to processing weight, versus having sold it as a feeder calf, you’re adding more value in the state per animal. If we raise our processing capacity and are able to process 4,000 or 5,000 more cows than we were, well multiply that at $2,500 per animal of value, you’re putting some economic growth in the beef industry by letting them raise those animals out,” Weathers says.

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About the Author(s)

John Hart

Associate Editor, Southeast Farm Press

John Hart is associate editor of Southeast Farm Press, responsible for coverage in the Carolinas and Virginia. He is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to joining Southeast Farm Press, John was director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. He also has experience as an energy journalist. For nine years, John was the owner, editor and publisher of The Rice World, a monthly publication serving the U.S. rice industry.  John also worked in public relations for the USA Rice Council in Houston, Texas and the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn. He also has experience as a farm and general assignments reporter for the Monroe, La. News-Star.

John is a native of Lake Charles, La. and is a  graduate of the LSU School of Journalism in Baton Rouge.  At LSU, he served on the staff of The Daily Reveille.

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