Clemson seeks funding to keep SC farmers competitive nationally and globally
COLUMBIA — A ninth-generation farmer whose family began farming on John’s Island in 1725, Thomas Legare knows a thing or two about the business, and he told state legislators this week that he could not overstate the importance of Clemson Public Service and Agriculture (PSA) to agriculture in South Carolina.
“We’re the state’s No. 1 industry, and the Clemson Extension Service is somebody who brings the research that’s done at the university and at the Research and Education Centers around the state to the farmers in our state,” said Legare, whose Legare Farms is a bustling 300-acre farm on the Stono River near Charleston. “They have done a great job; we’ve worked very closely with them for years.”
In a hearing before a House subcommittee Wednesday, Clemson PSA and university officials requested state investments in programs and facilities to help conserve South Carolina’s water resources, keep its farmers nationally and internationally competitive, and support prosperous and healthy families.
University President James P. Clements and George Askew, vice president for PSA, presented to the economic development and natural resources subcommittee, comprised of Chairman Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, and Reps. Dwight Loftis, R-Greenville; Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, and David Weeks, D-Sumter.
“We continue to work closely with our fellow agriculture and natural resource agencies to ensure that our programs are of high quality, efficient, relevant, complementary and certainly not competitive or duplicative,” Askew said. “In effect, Clemson University PSA serves as a critical research and development unit for the agriculture and natural resource industry, and we’re expected to always provide unbiased, science-based information to our clients: the people of South Carolina.”
Among the one-time investments Clemson PSA requested is $3.2 million to complete upgrades to the T. Ed Garrison Arena in Pendleton and build a conference center, add a covered arena and make improvements to the existing facility.
As president of the South Carolina Cattlemen’s Association, Legare said the Garrison arena already had a major economic impact on the state’s livestock producers and could make an even larger one with the proposed upgrades.
“That is a wonderful facility and we really do appreciate the money y’all gave (last year) to build the conference center there,” Legare told the committee. “That’s going to be a great facility once it’s finished. It will give us the opportunity to bring in national groups.”
Rep. Clemmons, who said he has experience showing horses and has been to the Garrison arena on many occasions, called the facility “truly a jewel for South Carolina.”
“It’s a facility that’s filled a need, and that need has been limited due to the size and facilities of the arena, and I’m excited about the opportunity that we can bring to South Carolina, that we will see events like horse shows and livestock shows and that we will see more of those in South Carolina and that they will be at Garrison arena,” Clemmons said.
For fiscal year 2019-20, Clemson PSA is requesting recurring funds for three programs.
First, it is seeking $2,015,000 for its comprehensive statewide Extension program to improve educational programs for youth and ensure that all of South Carolina’s 46 counties have support for critical agriculture and natural resource programs to develop and implement new program initiatives for emerging crops.
“We’ve identified in virtually each county the areas of agriculture and natural resources that are most important to that region and make sure they are staffed accordingly,” Askew said. “These hires are filling holes in individual regions and counties that those people are not there for or something new that has emerged that wasn’t there in the past.”
Clemson PSA’s second recurring budget request is for $1.54 million to address critical areas of agriculture and natural resources research and maintain a core of competitive research expertise. The funds would be used to hire five scientists, technical support and program support in areas that are essential to continued competitiveness of South Carolina farmers.
The third recurring budget request is for $1.1 million to ensure regulatory and Livestock Poultry Health operations continue to remain strong and protect animal health, control endemic foreign and emerging diseases in livestock and poultry, protect South Carolina consumers with a comprehensive inspection service that ensures meat and poultry products are safe and expand programs that protect and enhance the state’s agribusiness industry.
“Our farmers are currently battling pests that harm cotton, soybeans, sweet potatoes, forests and honeybees,” Askew said. “The requested funds will support efforts to control these pests so that export markets remain open to South Carolina farmers.”
“Each of our recurring requests have new hires associated with them that total 29 additional full-time employees,” he added.
Legare lauded Clemson PSA for its impact on the state’s $41.7 billion agribusiness industry and urged the committee to consider the potential impact of its budget requests.
“I don’t think I can say a whole lot more about what we get out of Clemson University in agriculture in South Carolina — through Extension for livestock and poultry health working closely with us,” he said. “We really need Extension in this state. They need more agents to help us out.”
Stavrinakis thanked Legare for sharing with the committee the “on-the-ground difference” that Clemson PSA, Extension and Livestock and Poultry Health make to the state’s agricultural producers and citizens.
“We hear the same thing a lot on this committee, whether it’s agriculture, forestry, and certainly Clemson PSA is a major contributor on the ground to folks like you and that spreads its way around in the community and makes a big difference,” Stavrinakis said.
Including the request for the Garrison arena, Clemson PSA also requested funding for three nonrecurring priorities to continue to further its mission of improving the quality of life for citizens in South Carolina through teaching, research and Extension.
Another nonrecurring budget request is for $4 million to complete renovation of a near-campus building where a team of water resources experts will conduct analytical water-related research and provide research-based natural resources management, instruction and demonstration. And finally, PSA asked for another $4 million in one-time funding for graduate school housing at Clemson’s Research and Education Centers (RECs) around the state.
Clements addressed the committee to conclude, stating that Clemson PSA epitomized the vision shared by Thomas Green Clemson when he created the university and exemplified its land-grant mission.
“If you look across the institution, nowhere is the partnership between Clemson and the state more evident than this area we have in PSA that serves the entire state,” Clements said. “As you know, Mr. Clemson’s will specifically charged Clemson College with supporting the state’s leading economic sector — agriculture — and, as we all know, it is still the state’s leading economic sector. That’s why the PSA budget priorities that we are asking you to support will directly promote education, research and regulatory programs that are needed to keep our agribusiness sector strong and prosperous in the 21st century.”