We’ve just confirmed what we’ve thought for years: Agribusiness is the No. 1 industry in South Carolina. A study prepared by Miley, Gallo and Associates for the Palmetto Agribusiness Council, reveals that the agribusiness of agriculture and forestry in South Carolina is one of the largest economic clusters and major economic engines in the state.

Together, they have a direct and indirect economic impact of $33.9 billion a year. Agribusiness provides almost 200,000 jobs in the state. With these results we take a step back and take a look at what has been the backbone of our state since its inception over 300 years ago.

The methods used by Dr Miley are on the conservative side. The study does not include financial information on food stores, restaurants, and the fiber industry. Nor does it include agriculture-based tourism and forestry-based tourism or government employees involved in the industry. Add those areas to the already huge agribusiness industry and the impact could be even more staggering.

Why is this information so important? The role of agriculture and forestry has long been overlooked in the state’s economy. Few public officials and legislators are directly involved in agriculture or forestry nowadays, and people are more removed from the farm than ever. For a time, the short distance from field to fork had become light years in the minds of people. But we see a change in that more and more folks will go the distance looking for local buying opportunities.

We learned in our early research for the Certified SC Grown branding and marketing program that 90% of the shoppers surveyed would purchase South Carolina products if competitively priced and good quality. The campaign is a powerful awareness tool in planting the message in our minds to Buy South Carolina.

The economic impact study examines historical data, but what’s more important is that agriculture and forestry will also play an even greater role in our future. Take energy for example. Advancing production of biomass energy resources and technologies will help keep energy dollars here in South Carolina and fuel our economic engine. As I heard in one of the televised debates, we need to do ‘all of the above’ toward alternative energy development. Agriculture is in most of ‘all of the above’.

At the same time, agriculture and forestry will continue to play a major role in maintaining our nation’s balance of trade. South Carolina exports about $1.4 billion in agricultural and forest products annually. The agribusiness export market is increasingly important to the well-being of our state and nation in reducing our nation’s trade imbalance.

The economic impact study shows the importance of buying and selling agribusiness products that ripples down through the economy. To produce one dollar of new product, employees must be hired and paid. Wages paid to these workers will be spent on goods and services such as food, fuel, clothing, and housing. As these dollars are spent, they become income to others, the spending cycle continues, and the economy grows. And the dollars from agriculture stay here in South Carolina, with research showing that about 80 percent is plowed right back in to our state’s economy. Some months on the farm it can seem like 120 percent is put back!

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