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South Carolina agriculture a diverse, growing sector

SC-Produce1Despite freeze damage done to early-season peaches in South Carolina, growers are anticipating good quality fruit and volume during July and August, the state's peak production months. Visiting peach orchards at Younce Orchard in early May are Sonny Dickinson, Martin Eubanks and Amy London, from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture. (Photo courtesy of the South Carolina Department of Agriculture)

Martin Eubanks, assistant commissioner at the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, said agriculture is thriving in the Palmetto State. "South Carolina offers a lot of opportunities," he told The Produce News. "The diversity is tremendous and growing." Peaches are ranked second in national production. "We are in the top four or five for leafy greens," he continued, adding that producers have developed business relationships with California producers. Cantaloupe production is ranked fifth or sixth, and watermelons are ranked in sixth place. South Carolina is the nation's eighth-largest producer of cucumbers.

Looking at the 2014 production season, Eubanks said South Carolina producers have contended with rollercoaster weather. And nowhere has this been more evident than the state's peach industry. Although the early crop was lost to a freeze, Eubanks said, "Our biggest volume of fruit comes out in July and August." SC-Produce2He said retailers and consumers can expect good supplies of peaches during those months.

"It's been cooler longer than normal," Eubanks said of the production season, adding that some other crops had to be replanted due to the earlier freezing conditions. But overall, crops are in the ground, and production is moving forward. The cool weather could result in a delayed onset of harvest for certain commodities, Eubanks went on to say. "But that can catch up," he commented as warm weather sets in.

South Carolina produces commodities throughout the year. "This time of year, we're still in our leafy green crop," he stated. "We still have some broccoli and asparagus going out."

Early season production includes watermelon, cabbage and early summer vegetables. "Peaches normally start in May," Eubanks stated, adding that blueberry production is just around the corner.

According to Eubanks, product quality this season has been good.

"We are blessed with adequate water," he continued. "South Carolina farmers are protected by state law." This does not mean, however, that producers do not feel the pinch of ongoing urbanization. "We are watching this very closely," Eubanks commented.

Because conditions were cool and wet earlier in the year, Eubanks said there has been adequate moisture for the coming crops. "I hope rain won't be a factor [later in the production cycle]," he added.

South Carolina continues to see the growth of small farms servicing niche markets as well as growth among larger producers. Crop diversity continues to increase. "Research is helping to make agriculture more efficient," he observed.

Eubanks said the most recent data show that land in agricultural production is relatively stable.

The majority of fresh produce grown in South Carolina moves along the Atlantic Seaboard and westward to the Mississippi River. On the export side, commodities are moved to Canada, the Caribbean and Mexico. "We'll go as far as is economically feasible," he noted.

In 2007, the department launched its "Certified South Carolina" program. Eubanks said trends showed that the vast majority of South Carolinians wanted to support state agriculture but didn't know how to do it. "We saw the opportunity to connect that dot," he said.

"Our goal is for consumers to be able to easily identify, find and buy South Carolina products," the program's website states.

Three separate studies that were subsequently conducted reveal that 60 percent of South Carolinians now recognize the brand and its logo.

Eubanks said the department makes it a priority to offer an array of marketing information and materials through its website, http://www.certifiedscgrown.com/Certified.

Additionally, the department makes available a staff of experts who can answer all questions for consumers, retailers and other interested parties.