Olar, South Carolina - South Carolina State University’s new, 200-acre farm will provide opportunities for agencies to work together and help famers, the state’s agriculture commissioner says. “We value S.C. State as one of our partners, and we look forward to the progress that will be exhibited here,” S.C. Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers of Bowman said Friday.
S.C. State’s 1890 Research & Extension Program held a ribbon-cutting and groundbreaking ceremony for its new 1890 Research and Demonstration Farm at 1678 Alligator Road in Olar. The university plans to add a multi-functional training center to house office and community meeting spaces, research laboratories, classrooms and indoor storage for large machinery.
Weathers touted the partnership between the S.C. Department of Agriculture and the university’s 1890 Program. The research farm will help farmers, particularly small farmers, realize new market opportunities, he said. “The extension work of S.C. State focuses more on the smaller farmer, and we want all the opportunities that we can create at the Department of Agriculture in terms of marketing outlets and new product opportunities. We want those benefits to be realized by farmers of all descriptions,” he said. “So I count the 1890 leadership program as a valuable partner to get the word out, specifically thinking about fruits and vegetables because some of our smaller farmers find that to be their best path in agriculture,” Weathers added.
The facility will be used to study the emerging hemp crop and research vegetable production using conventional and organic practices in hoop houses and a greenhouse. Agroforestry will be explored, and the farm will also include opportunities for community gardening. Weathers said, “To be in the fruit and vegetable production and selling for profit, all farmers have to think about the food safety concerns and regulations that are a part of the laws now regarding food production. The Department of Agriculture has that responsibility of making farmers aware of it, but we need partners to do that.” The university is one of the partners.
He said the 1890 Program’s research and demonstration farm will be a place where farmers can learn more about such laws and best growing practices to make their farms more marketable. “New food safety laws can be expensive, they can be intimidating as much as anything. So to have this research farm will be a great example of how small farmers can go and kick the tires, if you will, on some of these requirements and see that they are quite capable of meeting them and then, therefore, realizing new market opportunities,” Weathers said.
He said he is particularly looking at how the research farm can take advantage of the new, 1,000-acre agribusiness compound in Hampton County. Dubbed the Agriculture Technology Campus, the compound is expected to be fully operational by 2022 and include greenhouses for locally grown, pesticide-free tomatoes, leafy greens and other produce; a 150,000-square-foot distribution center and a co-packing facility.
Weathers said farmers can use the new research farm to grow crops for the compound, including the emerging crop of chickpeas. He said the research done at the S.C. State’s new farm can provide new entrepreneurial opportunities for farmers. Also, Weathers said he’s looking forward to continuing his department’s work with partners such as S.C. State. “We work with the Department of Commerce, we work with the Governor’s Office, we work with Clemson University, we work with S.C. State and 1890. So that’s our role, to sort of lead the team in providing new opportunities, and then we need the research to back it up. So that’s why I think this farm is very important to the future of agriculture,” Weathers said.
Dr. Louis Whitesides, executive director of the 1890 Research and Extension Program, said farmers will come to the facility and learn growing practices that could benefit their own enterprises. “We ask small farmers to improve their operations, improve their profitability, those kind of things. So the best way to really show farmers how to do stuff is for us to do it ourselves and show them how we did it,” Whitesides said.
The research component will be key to small farmers’ participation with Hampton County’s new agribusiness compound. “The agriculture technology campus is going to be doing a lot of fruits and vegetables, they're going to have packaging, they're going to have all those kinds of things,” Whitesides said. The 1890 program will research ways small farmers can participate.
The university purchased the $750,000 farm with U.S. Department of Agriculture funding, which is available to land grant institutions to help strengthen their capabilities in agriculture and food-related sciences. “We have an additional $2 million of construction that's going to go on at the farm. We're cutting the ribbon opening the farm, but it’s a groundbreaking because we're going to build a few facilities on the farm. That is in process right now,” Whitesides said.
“We're going to have two greenhouses and a processing facility that are going to be there, and we're going to build a research station. Then we’re going to have a big, indoor equipment storage facility to put all our equipment indoors. ... We're hoping construction will start in the next 60 to 90 days. Hopefully we can be quicker than that,” he said. Whitesides said students will get hands-on experience at the farm. "The research will be more enhanced. Instead of simulations and going to farms that we actually lease, we go to our own farm. Then students from the local school districts will also be able to come out and participate in community gardening and learn about the agricultural process,” he said.
The farm will also be used to train farm workers. “We'll be able to train farm hands about best practices. Tractor safety is something else we're going to address,” Whitesides said.
S.C. State President James E. Clark said, “There’s all kinds of possibilities associated with it. I always said we need to be growing things and experimenting and doing research. That includes greenhouses and activities on the campus, but it also includes farmland.”
“We believe that we can do stuff with some of our entomologists. ... I have been a little more forward looking with something you might call micro farming, and that is using big data on the farm,” Clark said. The president said he is also excited about the farm becoming a “laboratory"” for students to learn more about the diverse and growing agriculture industry.
Bamberg County Administrator Joey Preston said, “It’s projects like these that make me happy. “ He said the farm will support the creation of more than 60 jobs, have an estimated economic impact in the region of $34.9 million and support the state’s $45 billion agriculture industry. “I look forward to its continued contributions in our region,” he said.
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