Cotton remains the state’s leading agricultural export commodity.

Cotton remains the state’s leading agricultural export commodity.
Image Credit: Clemson University / Peter Togel

COLUMBIA — The largest industry in South Carolina has cast aside the withering effects of the Great Recession and continued to flourish at an impressive rate, according to a 2015 report cited Tuesday in the State House by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Agribusiness, a diverse cluster of 89 sectors that includes agriculture and forestry, collectively accounted for $41.7 billion in economic impact based on 2013 data, further emphasizing that it is a significant driver of the state’s economy.

“The news that agriculture and forestry mean tens of billions of dollars for our economy and 212,000 jobs for our people is a real reason to celebrate,” said Haley. “We have invested in agribusiness and in our rural areas, our farmers know we continue to have their back and, working with (S.C. Agriculture) Commissioner (Hugh) Weathers, we’re going to keep South Carolina on the move.”

Poultry is the state’s leading agricultural commodity, accounting for $1.3 billion per year in output.

Poultry is the state’s leading agricultural commodity, accounting for $1.4 billion per year in output.
Image Credit: Stock

Poultry is the state’s leading agricultural commodity, accounting for more than $1.4 billion per year in output.

Clemson University Public Service Activities, the Palmetto AgriBusiness Council, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture and the South Carolina Farm Bureau commissioned the report, titled “The Impact of the Agribusiness Sector on the South Carolina Economy.”

“Clemson’s connection to the agribusiness sector dates back 125 years, when we were founded to support the state’s economy – specifically agriculture – through education and research,” said Clemson President James P. Clements. “This mission was broadened by our land-grant status to include outreach to every county and support for all economic sectors. We’re thrilled that Clemson’s efforts to meet current and future agribusiness needs are contributing to the industry’s continued success.”

The $41.7 billion estimate is a 23 percent increase over an assessment of $33.9 billion derived from a 2008 report based on 2006 data. For consistency, both the 2008 and 2015 reports used the same approach and data sources.

Beef cattle ranching and farming accounted for more than $150 million in revenues.

Beef cattle ranching and farming accounted for more than $150 million in revenues.
Image Credit: Clemson University / Rebecca Dalhouse

“By hiring more Extension agents and agricultural research scientists across the state, Clemson has expanded services to farmers throughout South Carolina,” said George Askew, vice president for Public Service and Agriculture. “Our university is proud for whatever role this has played in the industry’s robust growth.”

After the release of the 2008 report, Weathers and the S.C. Forestry Commission set a goal for South Carolina agribusiness to reach $50 billion by 2020. Given the positive news announced by Haley, the 2020 benchmark now seems within easy reach.

“This is huge. We’re well on our way,” said Steve Meadows, Public Service and Agriculture program integration director. “It’s an advantage to Clemson and to everyone involved in agriculture in South Carolina to have data that shows the importance of the agribusiness industry to our state’s economy.”

According to the 2015 report, the Agribusiness Cluster — one of 10 major industrial clusters in South Carolina — is a combination of traditional agriculture, forestry, and food and wood processing. But it also encompasses an eclectic list of ancillary sectors, including greenhouse, nursery and floriculture production; canned and frozen specialty foods; bread and bakery products; pet and livestock feed manufacturing; and veterinary services.

“Agriculture and forestry have always been a great economic engine for South Carolina,” said Clemson University Extension director Tom Dobbins. “As we review the rich history of this state, agriculture has been the driving force that helped create a culture of change through the use of new technologies and production strategies. The Cooperative Extension Service and our research and education centers have been the driving force for technology change in agriculture and forestry. I am proud that we have calculated the current impact the agribusiness sector contributes to South Carolina. As we move forward, I believe it will be an even greater impact.”

Timber production, harvesting and wood processing generated $16.9 billion in economic impact.

Timber production, harvesting and wood processing generated $16.9 billion in economic impact.
Image Credit: Photo by Patricia Layton, Wood Utilization+Design Institute

According to the 2013 data, the total effect of agricultural activity rose to $24.8 billion, which is 48 percent higher than in 2006. Forestry, meanwhile, was estimated at $16.9 billion, a decrease of 1.3 percent from 2006. However, the forestry industry has been struggling somewhat in recent years because of a drop in the paper market, an influx of Canadian timber and a steep downslide in the construction industry.

“Considering we’ve been through a significant recession, this is an optimistic report,” said Jack Shuler, president of the Palmetto AgriBusiness Council. “For forestry to maintain its level is important as we look forward to reaching $50 billion (in total agribusiness) by 2020. We’re expecting a significant jump (in forestry dollars) as the housing market continues to improve, as well as the addition of more value-added plants producing timber, pellets and furniture.”

In further good news for the state’s forestry industry, a recent conference hosted by Clemson University focused on ways to strengthen and expand ties between the Palmetto State and Canada.

“One of our missions here at Clemson is building the South Carolina economy,” said David Wilkins, Clemson board of trustees chairman and former U.S. ambassador to Canada. “The more we can do with our Canadian partners, the better off we will be here at home.”

In 2013, the Agribusiness Cluster accounted for 109,141 direct jobs and 212,530 total jobs, which represents 10.5 percent of South Carolina’s workforce. This employment resulted in $4.5 billion in direct income and $8.8 billion in total income effect.

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What they’re saying:

“In 2009, the ‘50 by 20’ goal of raising the economic impact of South Carolina agribusiness to $50 billion by the year 2020 was introduced. With this recently updated study, we know that this goal of growing our industry to this level is well within reach, and we proudly celebrate the fact that agribusiness, with an economic impact of $42 billion annually, continues as the state’s No. 1 industry. I am committed to further strengthening our relationships at every turn so we can continue to give our full support to South Carolina farmers and agriculture producers.”
— Hugh Weathers, South Carolina commissioner of agriculture

“We are pleased that the ag sector is continuing to grow and make positive impacts on the South Carolina economy. As the largest grassroots general farm organization in the state, we encourage our state’s leaders to continue to support the ag sector by funding our critical needs for the future.”
— David Winkles, president of the South Carolina Farm Bureau

“This study clearly shows that forestry and agriculture are critical industries to South Carolina’s economy. We often refer to forestry as the ‘ideal industry’ in that it contributes around $17 billion to the state’s economy while having a positive effect on the environment, society and quality of life. The forest industry has recently made a tremendous recovery from the economic downturn, and we expect further industry growth driven by the housing recovery. A thorough analysis of the economic impact of the forest industry is planned for later this year. We expect this study to show an even larger impact.”
— Gene Kodama, state forester of the South Carolina Forestry Commission

“I am pleased that the forest industry maintained its $17 billion economic impact during the recession. Now with the improving economy, the forest industry is positioned to thrive in the upcoming years, and I am confident it will meet or exceed $20 billion in the near future.”
— Cam Crawford, president of the South Carolina Forestry Association