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The Impact of the Agribusiness Sector on the South Carolina Economy

2015 Agribusiness Impact Report, cotton harvest, photo by Peter Togel, Clemson University PSAExecutive Summary

Agriculture and forestry share a rich heritage in South Carolina. Rice, indigo, cotton, wood products, and pulp and paper provided the primary economic base for the state at various points in its history. Those sectors including food and wood processing and support services continue to be major economic drivers for the state.

Agriculture is doing well. The number of farms and farm acreage have increased in recent years.  With prices and production margins up, cash receipts for agricultural commodities in 2013 were 54 percent higher than receipts in 2006 when the last assessment was completed. Broilers continue to be the top agricultural commodity in the state with receipts up 71 percent above the 2006 figure. Among crops, better prices led to substantial gains in cash receipts for soybeans, cotton, and corn while peanut revenues increased significantly as well. Other major agricultural commodities with significant growth include turkeys and greenhouse and nursery products.   

2015 Agribusiness Impact Report, timber harvest, photo by Patricia Layton, Wood Utilization + Design

Forestry, on the other hand, has been down in recent years affected by the drop in the paper market, the influx of Canadian timber, and finally the Great Recession. The recession hit the construction industry hard and in turn had a major impact on saw timber sales. The recovery has been slow but total output between 2009 and 2011 was up 14.5 percent returning to pre-recession levels. Pulpwood production is up to record levels as containers and packaging material has filled the void left by paper. Saw logs are recovering although output levels are still a third below pre-recession levels. Still, the outlook is favorable as recovery continues. There are ample inventories and projected growth in demand particularly within the Southeast and export markets.

The Agribusiness Cluster is diverse consisting of 60 sectors in the agriculture component and 29 sectors in the forestry component. Collectively, the cluster accounted for $41.7 billion in economic impact in 2013 including direct, indirect and induced impacts. That figure represents a 23 percent increase over the earlier assessment using 2006 data. It also indicates that agribusiness is responsible for 9.1 percent of economic activity in the state of South Carolina. The annual output or direct effect of the agribusiness sector at $26.8 billion makes agribusiness, taken as an industry, the largest industry in the state.

2015 Agribusiness Impact Report, beef cattle, photo by Rebecca Dalhouse, Clemson University PSA

The Agribusiness Cluster accounts for 109,141 direct jobs and a total employment of 212,530, 10.5 percent of the state’s workforce. That employment results in $4.5 billion in direct income and a total income effect of $8.8 billion. Those figures do not include some of the non-market benefits of agriculture and forestry including values associated with open space with inherent habitat and amenity benefits as well as other values associated with land conservation and water and air quality. 

As with other economic clusters, it is important to fill gaps in the supply chain to fully realize the potential of the sector. Vertical integration in the forestry sector consolidated various stages of the production process producing high multiplier effects. Further integration through locating suppliers of critical components or better integrating existing subsectors will enhance economic performance. At the same time, extension of activity up the food and forestry chains with value added in the processing and distributional stages also will lead to higher economic returns. Programs such as the Certified South Carolina program offer the potential to capture more of the income stream for farmers and foresters and for the state as a whole.

2015 Agribusiness Impact Report, peach harvest, photo by Peter Togel, Clemson University PSA

Agribusiness will need to adjust to changing market conditions to meet two current initiatives of the 50 x 20 plan to increase agribusiness impact to $50 billion by 2020 and the 20/15 project to increase forestry’s impact to $20 billion by 2015. Global markets will play an increasingly important role requiring a focus on areas of comparative advantage and the development of strong clusters around those product lines. It will require creative thinking and innovation to compete effectively in competitive global markets. Yet, meeting internal demand both in-state and in-region should be exploited as well to meet projected growth in the state and region and to close the gap between primary producers and end users.

Download the 28 page report: The Impact of the Agribusiness Sector on the South Carolina Economy >