One of the benefits for farmers at the recent S.C. Agribiz and Farm Expo was the wealth of information on new enterprises that may have a place in the state.

Among them:

Olives: In 2011, the cooperative Georgia Olive Farms conducted the first commercial harvest of olives east of the Mississippi River since the late 1800s. These were pressed into extra virgin olive oil and are being marketed under the Georgia Olive Farms label.

Now, the cooperative is working with farmers and investors to provide sustainable, locally produced olive oil to East Coast consumers. Each year, Georgia Olive Farms olives will be the first harvested in the United States and will the very freshest olive oil to U.S. consumers.

Pete Player, a farmer from Bishopville, S.C., visited the display of Georgia Olive Farms to gather information about olives, a crop that is actually ancient, but would be brand new to him.

“It's a good sturdy tree, and production is not too labor-intensive,” he told an interviewer at the expo. “You can get into it small, maybe 10 acres to start with, and it would be (only) about 30 months until you get a return on it, which is not too bad.”

Freezing weather would be a concern. Still, Player plans to study the enterprise more, and it might have a place on his operation in the near future.

And the cooperative is definitely looking for more growers. “Grower contracts are available for those interested in planting olive trees for the production of olive oil,” said GOF Executive Kevin Shaw. And the contract includes as much advice as you need.

“We offer 'turnkey' installation of olive orchards. We offer management decisions as well, which would help you make sure you don't make the mistakes we have made in the process of learning this business.”

Sheep: Cat Martin of Poverty Acres Farm, Liberty, S.C., said there is definitely a market for lambs in South Carolina right now.

Cannot meet demand

“Even though our lamb numbers  have tripled, we can't produce enough to meet the demand,” she said. “I sold the last of my (2013) lambs in October. I could have sold 40 more. I have a waiting list.”

Martin has 65 ewes now and is hoping to get up to 85 in 2014. Predators are a problem for her as for all sheep producers, but she has a donkey that maintains order.

 Some ― but not all ― of Martin's lambs go to the ethnic market. Many lamb consumers have to go outside the state to get the lamb they want.

The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) has a program now that encourages producers to increase their flocks by two ewes per operation, increase the average birthrate per ewe to two lambs per year, and increase the harvested lamb crop by two percent.

Flax: A still new agricultural enterprise in South Carolina has room for plenty of new growers. About 3,000 acres of flax is being grown in South Carolina this winter, most of it close to Florence.

“The problem is we needed 15,000 acres,” said Duncan Skelton, logistics manager for Naturally Advanced Technologies (NAT), the company that is promoting flax production. “We are looking for additional acres.”

The state is an excellent candidate for increased flax production. The crop grows well in fields that have been fallow or in wheat, soybeans, cotton, corn and peanuts. “It does not like sandy land,” he said. “It prefers a dark soil type.”

NAT had earlier announced it plans to build a flax processing plant in nearby Pamplico, S.C.    

Peanuts are certainly not a new crop in South Carolina. But there are a lot of new growers, and they will probably be cheered to learn that boiled peanuts — sold in cans — appear to be a “hot” item, at least for McCall Farms of Effingham, S.C.

“I would say right now boiled peanuts are looking good,” said Henry Swink, president of McCall Farms, a food processing company that manufactures and markets canned fruits and vegetables throughout the Southeast.

Virginia varieties

“We sell them in cans under the 'Peanut Patch' label. We use Virginia varieties, mainly Baileys and Champs.”

 

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There was some good information on how to do the best job you can growing goobers.

Scott Monfort, South Carolina Extension peanut specialist, said rotation of peanuts and use of certain conservation-tillage practices can reduce disease pressure and increase profits, said.

“Planting a CBR-resistant variety will save an average of $28.17 per acre in chemical (costs) and another 25 percent in yield loss from a susceptible variety,” he said. “Planting a white-mold-resistant variety like Bailey, Sugg or GA-07W can reduce inputs an average of $30 per acre.”

And just knowing how resistant a variety is to tomato spotted wilt virus can save on insecticide costs and time.

• One farmer who wasn't looking for new enterprises was Ed Young of Florence.

The longtime farmer and a former U.S. congressman and state legislator received the South Carolina Heritage Farmer of the Year award, presented at the expo. 

Young, a youthful 93, just retired from farming in 2012. Much of his career involved managing dairy cattle, but now the farm is made up primarily of beef cattle, cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans.

“I am still living on the home place (which is close to the Florence Civic Center where the expo was held),” he said. “We had a good year in 2012. I think agriculture is going to be very strong in the future.”

But he is worried that the cost of acquiring land is making it too difficult for young people to get into agriculture.

chrisbickers@gmail.com

 

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