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Program Focused on New Farmers Now Accepting Applications

Farm in Williamsburg County
Alexandra Olgin/ South Carolina Public Radio

In 2019, Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers shared statistics to “point out the seriousness” of the need for the next generation of farmers.

“If you’re talking fruits; there’s about a fifty, fifty chance that fruit was grown somewhere else in the world,” Weathers said. “Thirty percent of our vegetables are being imported into this country,” he added.

Sitting at the conference table in his office, with a Certified SC Grown sign hanging above, Weathers said if someone asked him about the state of the next generation of farmers five or ten years ago, those percentages would have been considerably lower. If asked ten years from now, “we want not to outsource our food from this country,” he said.

Weathers has served as Commissioner of the state’s largest industry, since 2004 and has created the Certified SC Grown branding program to help consumers easily identify and purchase South Carolina products.

I believe food security is right next to military strength, in terms of national security...

“I believe food security is right next to military strength, in terms of national security, so we do want to and are trying to encourage our next generation of farmers,” he said.

One way this infusion of new farmers is being supported is through the South Carolina New and Beginning Farmer Program (SCNBFP). It focuses on enabling new and beginning farmers to be successful, productive, and innovative members of their local agricultural community.

The program was founded in 2011 and is administered by Clemson University Extension Agribusiness. Residents at least 18 years old with no more than 10 consecutive years of farming to their name are eligible. More than 300 individuals have successfully graduated the program. The program aims to give students the skills and tools needed to be successful entrepreneurs, business managers and marketers of their products.

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Weathers said with the average age of farmers in South Carolina at 59, there is a level of concern about this aging population, and the future of where our food comes from.

“Who will be growing our food and will they be doing it to the standards that we have come to expect in this country?”

Other programs in place to encourage next generation farmers include the Agriculture Commissioner’s School of Agriculture for high school students and the Agriculture Entrepreneur Center.

The deadline to apply for the 2020 South Carolina New and Beginning Farmer Program (SCNBFP) is February 16.