ORANGEBURG, S.C. (WCSC) – Historic investments are being made at South Carolina’s two land-grant universities for a new program to make farming across the state more climate-friendly.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest $70 million in Clemson University in the Upstate and South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.
“Our American farmers are on the frontlines when it comes to climate change,” USDA Natural Resources Conservation Chief Terry Crosby said.
The program is specifically focused on growers of peanuts, leafy greens, beef cattle, and forest.
“The majority of the funds will go directly to growers to provide financial incentives to offset the costs of implementing climate-smart practices,” Paula Agudelo, the project lead and Associate Dean for Research and Experiment Station Director in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences at S.C. State, said.
Clemson and South Carolina State are partnering with 27 groups across South Carolina who will, in turn, bring the program to farmers – potentially hundreds of them – if they want to take part. The people leading the partnership say it’ll increase the acreage and number of farmers using conservation practices that will then boost South Carolina’s water quality and biodiversity, and improve greenhouse gases.
“I think what we’re talking about today, when we look back on it, we will see this as an inflection point in South Carolina’s agricultural history,” State Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers said.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, who helped secure the grant, noted it’ll particularly benefit the state’s small farmers.
“Emily, my late wife, came from a little 22-acre farm in Berkeley County. I know what these small farming families can mean going forward,” Clyburn said at the announcement Tuesday morning in Orangeburg. “This is the kind of program that will assist them in making a living.”
Money from this grant will last for five years.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said there is a “strong and growing interest” in the private sector and among consumers for food grown in a climate-friendly way.
The Democratic congressman said more than 80 percent of the class of 1961 left the state to pursue career opportunities.
“They didn’t leave on adventures,” he said. “They left looking for opportunity. We, with this program, can do a lot to reverse that trend, so these families can find a future here.”
Clyburn, a graduate of South Carolina State University, said his focus is on making opportunity accessible and affordable for all.
They believe once this program gets going, it can serve as a model for similar practices nationwide.
“Our state and its citizens can improve in terms of quality of life and standard of living, particular if you are a farmer associated with this program, and generally, as consumers, we all eat what farmers produce,” S.C. State Co-Principal Investigator Lamin Drammeh said.
The $70 million headed to the two universities is among the largest of the USDA awards.
“We are grateful for the USDA’s investment of $70 million to the Climate-Smart Commodities Project,” Clemson University President Jim Clements said. “As a land-grant institution, our mission and values have always been connected to the development of agriculture and the economic growth of South Carolina. Through this incredible investment by the USDA and Clemson’s partnership with S.C. State, we have the opportunity for our talented farmers, researchers, and partners here in South Carolina to lead the field of climate-smart agriculture locally, nationally, and globally.”
“The USDA’s historic investment recognizes the value both SC State and Clemson bring to the people of South Carolina and the active roles we play in their wellbeing and community development,” S.C. State President Alexander Conyers said. “This USDA partnership will ensure that South Carolina’s farmers will continue to thrive in the modern world with sustainable practices that benefit both them and the environment.”
Vilsack said the effort will increase the competitive advantage of U.S. agriculture both domestically and internationally, as well as build wealth that stays in rural communities.
The USDA is investing up to $2.8 billion in 70 selected projects under the first Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities funding pool, which includes proposals seeking funds ranging from $5 million to $100 million.
The $70 million investment is the single largest award from the federal government in both S.C. State’s and Clemson’s histories.