Local corn grown and processed in South Carolina, sold at the Cayce Farmer’s Market on Charleston Highway. (Photo by Win Hammond/Carolina News and Reporter)
The South Carolina Department of Agriculture is giving $40 million to state agribusinesses to produce and process food more efficiently.
The General Assembly-approved $40 million will be used to reimburse agribusinesses that process, pack, manufacture, distribute, store or transport goods.
The idea is to help large businesses add infrastructure that will help smaller farms.
In 2021, the Upstate’s only grain elevator – which services around 125 farmers, and can store around 292,000 bushels of wheat – had to reject at least 15 S.C. farmers and their collective 90,000 bushels, resulting in a loss for local farms. The grant is designed to prevent future such losses for farmers due to a lack of crop storage.
The general manager of the South Carolina Farm Bureau’s marketing association, Josh Simpson, said that in the decade he’s been managing the grain elevator, every year he has had to turn away some farmers’ harvest due to a lack of storage.
“You want to sell it as milling quality because that’s what brings the highest value,” Simpson said. “So, when we can’t buy it for milling quality or we’re full, then they gotta move it to the next place, and that’s usually a feed mill. And they normally pay a lot less for it. It’s been pretty much that way every year.”
The Farm Bureau is applying for $6 million of the the $40 million total to double the Anderson grain elevator’s capacity in addition to buying other equipment such as wet tanks and dryers on behalf of its members. Drying grain can take two to three weeks longer when it is set out in the sun than with proper equipment, Simpson said.
South Carolina doesn’t always process its own foods, relying instead on other states.
The Palmetto State imports $11.7 billion in agribusiness products for final consumption, according to a study by USC Economics Research Professor Joseph Von Nessen.
Agriculture officials think the program is a great investment.
“We grow things here, right?” said Eva Moore, the agriculture department’s communications director. “We don’t necessarily process them here. We don’t necessarily take them through all the steps that allow them to be sold to customers in South Carolina. What this grant is trying to do is expand processing in South Carolina, so we can keep more of those food dollars at home.”
A business must make a minimum project investment of $3 million to qualify for the grant money. The program is also targeted toward agribusinesses in the 24 counties the South Carolina Department of Revenue classifies as lower-income counties. Bringing jobs and development to some of the state’s poorest counties is one of the grant’s priorities, but businesses elsewhere can apply as well.
It’s “based on a number of metrics, most of which are related to income,” the agriculture department’s Director of Agribusiness Development, Norris Thigpen, said.
Despite the $3 million application threshold, the grant process is not exclusive to big business.
“What we’re trying to do is to work with companies that are trying to make strategic investments that will have the biggest impacts on agribusiness in the state,” Thigpen said. “Some of our best companies in the state are actually pretty small.”
The agency will review applications and vote on whether to award grant money based on factors such as the economic viability of the project, job creation and infrastructural needs of applying agribusinesses.
“There are a variety of factors,” Moore said. “The most fundamental one is, ‘Is it going to help South Carolina farmers?”
The Farm Bureau and county governments have started applying for grants for members and other businesses.
Grant applications won’t be approved until an agency panel approves applications. Applications will be approved on a rolling basis.
“This is something that agriculture needs,” said the Farm Bureau’s government relations director, Michael Wright. “As the No. 1 industry in the state, we’re really excited that the General Assembly has supported us the way they have.”
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Hammond is an assistant news editor for The Daily Gamecock, USC’s student newspaper. This summer, he worked at the Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina under Avery Wilks, a former investigative reporter, who was named the 2022 S.C. Daily Journalist of the Year. He is earning a master’s degree in mass communications and bachelor’s multi-media journalism.
Bruce is a mass communications graduate student at the University of South Carolina. He has covered campus news for The Daily Gamecock and freelanced for Columbia Living magazine. He also interned at The Hill in Washington D.C., covering Congress and elections. When he’s not covering politics, he enjoys fantasy sports and cooking.