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Weathers can grow agriculture

Agriculture, long a backbone of the state’s economy, is South Carolina’s largest industry, with an annual impact of $33.9 billion and almost 200,000 agribusiness jobs. Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers has the experience and insights to advance agriculture even further. Voters should give him the chance to continue what he has begun.

A Bowman dairy farmer who has degrees in accounting and finance, Mr. Weathers is committed to promoting South Carolina produce to consumers throughout the state and in the international market.

Mr. Weathers was tapped for the post of Agriculture Commissioner in 2004 after his predecessor went to jail on bribery charges. He was elected in 2006.

He considers his most significant achievement to be relocating the state farmers market from a field near Williams-Brice Stadium to a spot off I-26 in nearby Lexington County. While the move has been controversial, Mr. Weathers is confident that farmers and consumers will find the new spot more efficient and attractive.

Healthy farmers markets are good for farmers’ business, and they also reinforce Mr. Weathers’ steady drumbeat for buying locally produced food.

He has also promoted that message by supporting farm-to-school and fresh-on-restaurant-menu endeavors.

Mr. Weathers says promoting produce grown in the state could increase farm revenue by $300 million, and provide 10,000 additional jobs on farms and in related businesses. The state could use more revenue and jobs.

The commissioner also wants to expand the export market for South Carolina produce, and has talked with State Ports Authority CEO Jim Newsome about building a grain elevator, which would allow this state to deal with Asian and other international grain markets.

Mr. Weathers believes South Carolina can gain new business for farmers through alternative energy production and has secured U.S. Department of Agriculture funds for fuel-crop experiments.

He also notes that organic farming, while it represents only 5 or 6 percent of the state’s agriculture, is the fastest-growing segment of the state’s agriculture, having doubled since he took office. Mr. Weathers has worked to form good relationships with stores that sell the local organic produce.

Asked about what he could do as commissioner of agriculture to address the state’s budget crisis, he said he has already begun. He and the treasurer have combined some of their office functions including human resources, for efficiency and cost savings.

Hugh Weathers is a farmer with a head for finance who has worked to grow agriculture in South Carolina. Give him another four years to move forward with those plans.

By “The Post and Courier”