Before heading off on a week-long furlough, the South Carolina Senate gave key approval last week to a measure to raise the state’s cigarette tax by 50 cents. The measure requires a final vote in the Senate and approval by the House. While the bulk of the revenue raise from the tax hike would go to Medicaid programs, a portion would be earmarked for agricultural marketing. State Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers says the funds will be used in part to help some farmers with their decisions to plant crops other than tobacco.
“The monies that are earmarked to come into the promotion of agriculture are designed to help farmers look at alternative crops wherein our tobacco acreage is down now maybe around 20,000 acres when it used to be four times that amount. There is no direct help for any one individual farmer from those funds, it’s simply to regain our footing on the marketing program that we began three years ago.”
Weathers says because of state budget cuts, the funds for the Department of Agriculture’s marketing plan called “Certified South Carolina” have been literally cut to zero.Weathers says long-time tobacco farmers will continue to grow tobacco, but they also are planning for the future as the demand for tobacco falls as more people curtail their use of tobacco products.”Tobacco like any other crop or farming practice need to be in a crop rotation plan. One crop that fits in nicely with that and benefits from the same type of soil as tobacco is peanuts, and we growing a good quality peanut here in South Carolina known as the roasting peanut, ” says Weathers.
The commissioner says he sees great potential with farmers incorporating peanuts in their crop rotation cycles. Weathers says the key is the successful recruitment of businesses to South Carolina that will process the products grown by farmers in the state. “The peanut is a good reflection of an alternative crop that has been coming on over the last four or five years in South Carolina and one we think we can recruit businesses around to allow the state to get more value from the crop than just selling the raw peanuts to someone else. I’m very excited about what that trend means,” Weathers says.
Weathers is confident that efforts to recruit more processors of agricultural products to South Carolina will bear fruit in the near future. ” We’ve put in front of them a feasibility study that was done by Clemson University and it has been received favorably. I’ve been in written and verbal communication with folks that can make those decisions.I am optimistic that they feel favorable about South Carolina in part because of the quality crop we’re growing and because of some trends in the market.