Agriculture in South Carolina is big business – a $46.2 billion economic impact, 247,000 jobs and over 24,000 farms – but there’s still room to grow (no pun intended). That’s what Capital Rotarians heard Aug. 26 from guest speaker Jack Shuler (in photo from SCNOW), director of agribusiness development for the Palmetto State. Crops and poultry make up about 55% of farming’s impact, with 45% coming from forestry operations. The equine industry, including areas around Camden, Aiken and near Tryon, NC, gives nearly a $2 billion per year boost. Trade wars hurt farmers over the past two years, Shuler said, and the COVID 19 pandemic has disrupted supply chains, moved markets from an institutional base (restaurants/food processors) to consumer based (more cooking and eating at home), plus poses labor problems (especially among migrant workers). Still, Shuler sees a promising future for South Carolina farming, forecasting billions more in economic impact by 2035. Advances in technology and robotics (such as driverless tractors and harvesters) offer a labor solution, but require more technical skills and worker training in rural areas. Controlled environments like greenhouses and aquaculture may reduce dependence on weather conditions. Shuler said locating another poultry facility in the state is feasible and would be “a huge economic engine” for any rural county, bringing an additional 1,200 jobs. “A lot of our fresh food now is trucked from California and Mexico,” Shuler said. “We need to look at how we can bring those types of crops to be grown, marketed and processed in South Carolina.” The state’s East Coast location – halfway between Virginia and Florida – makes it ideal for food preparation and shipping within a day. Shuler retired in 2011 and joined the SC Agriculture Department staff after a 38-year career in farm credit operations. A Clemson University graduate, he also has a Master’s Degree in Business and completed the Graduate School of Banking at Louisiana State University.