Letters to the Editor

Protect agribusiness funding in state budget

Agribusiness is South Carolina’s largest industry, contributing more than $30 billion and 200,000 jobs to the state economy through agriculture, forestry and related industries, according to economic impact studies by the Palmetto Institute and Miley, Gallo and Associates.

Key to the vitality of this sector is ongoing research to identify critical issues, develop solutions and share new plant varieties, production methods and processing technologies with agricultural producers and forest managers.

Clemson University proposed – and the S.C. General Assembly endorsed – establishing an Advanced Plant Technology program at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center in Florence. This research would provide a bridge to 21st century agriculture using traditional plant breeding and molecular genetics to develop new crops and crop-based products.

We are surprised Gov. Haley chose to veto the $4 million in state funding to support this economic development initiative since economic development is a focus of her administration.

The goal of the Advanced Plant Technology program is to foster continued development of the agricultural economy in the Pee Dee Region and throughout South Carolina. Specific objectives are to increase the per acre value of crops; develop new crops that can expand the market for South Carolina farm products; and attract private agribusiness investment in research, development and application of new technologies and crop varieties.

The S.C. General Assembly saw the economic benefit of the Advanced Plant Technology program and designated $4 million for Clemson agricultural research. This seed money would be used to begin renovating current laboratories at the Pee Dee center and to add new laboratory space and equipment required for innovative plant breeding and genetics research.

This project capitalizes on the Pee Dee region’s strong agricultural economy, Clemson’s longstanding collaboration with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Florence, and the proximity to the city of Florence and the interstate system. Collaboration with Clemson plant scientists on the main campus and agronomists at research centers in Blackville and Charleston provides a complete cycle of genetic improvement and agricultural practices for profitable production. The project also has potential for collaboration with researchers at Francis Marion and other universities.

Both the South Carolina Farm Bureau and the Palmetto Agribusiness Council support this endeavor because each organization recognizes the relevance of the research to agricultural producers and the state economy.

Unfortunately, in her veto message Gov. Haley related this project to overall funding for higher education. In fact, Clemson’s agriculture and forestry research, extension and regulatory programs are federally mandated to enhance economic development in agribusiness, and are funded separately from the university’s education and operations budget.

Sustaining economically viable agriculture in South Carolina requires ever-increasing crop yields and crop quality, and continuously developing new crops and new crop products to maintain competitiveness.

The Advanced Plant Technology program would grow the economy in the Pee Dee region and across the state. It is for this reason Clemson is requesting that the General Assembly override he veto of Gov. Haley.

The writer is in media relations at Clemson University.