The S.C. Department of Agriculture established a new office to grow the state’s $41.7 billion agribusiness industry. The Office of Agribusiness Development will help farmers maximize their land and resources with higher margins and specialized crops, according to its director Jack Shuler, as well as bring in infrastructure such as food processing and manufacturing that add the vast majority of value to product.
“Traditionally, really way back, we grew rice and indigo and tobacco, which was a great crop for a very long time, but it doesn’t have the economic impact in South Carolina as it once did,” said Shuler. Diversifying and adding processors could be a solution for rural counties that have struggled to recover over the last few years, he said. “We would like to see, from an agricultural stand- point, changing the face of what we grow to more value-added crops.”
The office would help South Carolina’s agribusiness industry reach its goal of $50 billion in annual economic impact by 2020, which is within reach but not a guarantee, S.C. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers told Upstate Business Journal earlier this year.
“About 90 percent of the value of this industry happens after something leaves the farm,” Weathers said. “When you go and spend a dollar at a grocery store, about 17 cents gets back to the farmer. … The jobs are in processing.”
Shuler plans to work with in-state economic developers, as well as travel to trade shows and connect farmers with resources, perhaps even capital or co-op plans, he said. On top of that, the state needs to land more deals like that of Ruiz Food Products Inc., he said. Ruiz announced plans to invest $55 million and add 500 jobs in Florence County for its first East Coast manufactur- ing facility.
“Food manufacturing is the same as car manufacturing,” said Shuler, who took office in July. “We have an ample supply of food, and its something we can’t take for granted.”