South Carolina is acting to reduce farmland loss

South Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers sees the recently signed Working Agricultural Lands Preservation Act as a major achievement in helping reduce the loss of agricultural land to development in the Palmetto State.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill 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 agricultural land from development.

In an interview with Southeast Farm Press, Weathers said the land conservation law further strengthens the Conservation Bank’s efforts. Funding for the program is expected to be approved in the new South Carolina state budget, which starts July 1.

“We hope that some additional funding will come with a carveout for agricultural conservation easements. In the meantime, we will put together an assessment team to look at the agricultural applications and talk about them in agricultural language and then pass this along to the Conservation Bank members with an evaluation of the return on investment that those specific easements can provide. says Weers.

Conservation of agricultural land

Weathers says the land conservation law, coupled with a recently developed land trust ordinance, is in effect South Carolina Bureau of Agriculture, will help preserve farmland for future generations as South Carolina experiences unprecedented population growth. “The combination of the passage of this legislation and the creation of a farmer-focused land trust will, I think, really increase the conservation activity that our farmers are actually pursuing.”

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

Weathers says preserving farms and preserving farmland is a must for growing and strengthening South Carolina’s agriculture, the state’s largest industry. As of 2020, the agriculture industry had a $51.8 billion impact on South Carolina each year. The agricultural industry 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 an increase of almost 40% in economic impact. So far, about $52 billion a year comes into the South Carolina economy because our nearly 24,000 farmers grow things we consume,” Weathers said.

“With 23,000 farmers in the state, they create almost 260,000 jobs to actually get those products from the farm to the end user. It highlights the partnership between the agricultural producer and the agricultural industry member.”

Adding more value to raw materials

Weathers says all agriculture, from major crop production, fruits and vegetables, to poultry, pork and beef, to agritourism, is vital to the state’s economy. He says adding more value to crops and livestock off the farm is critical to strengthening South Carolina’s economy.

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

Weathers cites money invested in beef processing throughout South Carolina as an example of how to process more raw materials and add further value to South Carolina agriculture. He said this will benefit both cattle producers and others in the value chain.

“By the time you have the animal ready to gain weight, rather than having sold it as a feeder calf, you are adding more value in the state per animal. If we increase our processing capacity and are able to process 4,000 or 5,000 more cows than before, multiply that by $2,500 per valuable animal, then you bring some economic growth to the beef industry by allowing them to raise those animals.” says Weather.

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