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Industry leaders say collaboration vital for growth and success in agriculture

January 25, 2019
Ronnie Summers, the chief executive officer of the Palmetto AgriBusiness Council, speaks Thursday at the 2019 South Carolina AgriBiz & Farm Expo.

FLORENCE, S.C. – Collaboration might be the key for the future success of agribusiness in South Carolina.

According to a panel of industry leaders who spoke Thursday at the S.C. AgriBiz & Farm Expo, South Carolina’s top industry is composed of diverse segments that must work together.

Palmetto AgriBusiness Council chief executive officer Ronnie Summers said agribusiness, composed of agriculture and forestry, is the top industry in the state. The annual economic impact last year of agribusiness was $42 billion with 210,000 people working in the industry, he said.

“We’ve got an initiative to get to $50 billion in economic impact by 2020,” Summers said. “Our desire is to stay strong and remain number one. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

The growth of agribusiness in the state affects local producers and consumers as well as international markets.

Lonnie Kelley, a Food Lion local produce sourcing specialist, said the company has seen double-digit growth year over year of local produce sold in Food Lion stores. With a focus on expanding the stores’ offerings of local produce, he said, he wants to buy and sell as much South Carolina-grown produce as he can. As more farmers participate in the effort to produce local fruits and vegetables, the stores will be able to offer more produce for customers, he said.

Internationally, the impact of S.C. agribusiness is evident in the Port of Charleston. According to S.C. Ports Authority Senior Vice President Paul McClintock, the Port of Charleston is the fastest-growing major port in the United States. He said agriculture commodities from South Carolina like such as logs, lumber, paper, frozen chicken and pork, soybeans, animal feeds, grains and peanuts make up 25 percent of the export volume. Since 2011, containerized agriculture exports have increased 118 percent.

“We try to do everything we can to facilitate the transportation of goods and work hard to increase ag volume and share of business at South Carolina ports,” McClintock said. “This state produces many ag products, and there is a tremendous opportunity to export our fruits and vegetables abroad.”

However, with growth across the agribusiness industry comes significant challenges to development.

Ron Prestage, owner and president of Prestage Farms and doctor of veterinary medicine, said some current challenges for agribusiness include insufficient labor, access to international markets and finding leadership within the agriculture industry.

Similarly, Kelley emphasized the difficulty of sourcing local produce, because farmers are hesitant to pursue necessary certifications.

“I’ve met with a lot of farmers and there’s a fear of food-safety certification,” Kelley said. “As an ag industry, we need to embrace the change or other countries will start to grow our food.”

For Summers, collaboration is at the core of what agribusiness requires to move forward. He said the purpose of the S.C. Agribusiness Development panel was to highlight some of the facets of the ag industry not covered in other sessions of the expo and show how they can advance agribusiness.

“All areas of agribusiness need to be at the table to find out how the industry as a whole can support each other,” Summers said. “I think we have substantial opportunities, but with those opportunities, we will see challenges. Through collaboration and teamwork within agribusiness, we will overcome.”

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