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Agriculture commissioner to propose more federal dollars for SC farmers

Hugh Weathers reflected on the past year with News 19, while looking ahead to the remainder of 2021.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — For the past three months, News 19 has brought you stories of resilience in our series "Surviving COVID: Farm-to-Table."

We toured the properties of area farmers and restaurant owners who shared with us how they fought their way through the pandemic.

Each person shared their own unique journey of how COVID-19 affected their role in farm-to-table operations.

News 19 sat down with South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers to learn how his department is helping farmers for the future.

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In South Carolina, May is the month for harvesting collards, broccoli, strawberries, carrots and cilantro.

Dozens of specialty crops will once again make their way from the farm to your table this year thanks to the resiliency of the nearly 25,000 farmers across the state.

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"They had to do a lot of pivoting. I think that was the word of the year last year, 'pivoting', to find those other outlets because the security and the suddenness was absolutely what overwhelmed us," said Weathers.

Weathers says the impact on farm-to-table operations during the pandemic really depended on where the food was going.

"If it's a restaurant table, obviously the impacts were terrible," said Weathers. "If it was from a farmer to a home table where we were all quarantined, then the impacts were positive as long as the farmer could make those adjustments when necessary."

To keep business running, some farmers created new business plans selling directly to consumers.

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Others, rolled up their sleeves and mobilized efforts to feed those in need.

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Last year, the Department of Agriculture worked with partners to develop a privately-funded Farmers To Food Bank program which Weathers hopes to continue for the foreseeable future.

"That gave farmers an opportunity to sell," said Weathers. "We did nearly half a million dollars to South Carolina farmers by way of our distributors benefiting all the food pantries around the state that participated with us."

When restaurants began to reopen in 2020, the department teamed up with multiple agencies to create a commercial saying restaurants are open and highlighting local eateries using products from local farmers.

* Drum roll, please * We're ready when you are! Restaurants across the state are delighted to welcome you back to their patios and dining rooms. For more information and guidelines about dining in S.C. restaurants, visit SCRLA.org/COVID_19 SC Restaurant & Lodging Association South Carolina Department of Agriculture Discover South Carolina

Posted by Certified South Carolina on Friday, May 22, 2020

In other marketing efforts for farmers, the Department of Agriculture added a page to their website that showed consumers where to buy directly from farmers.

Going forward, Weathers plans to get more help to the agriculture business.

"As these American Recovery Act dollars come to South Carolina, we think it'd be very wise to invest some of those in agriculture," he said.

The department is also financially rewarding farmers willing to take risks and pursue innovative ideas.

"We think there's a way to support those farmers willing to take a risk to help make sure South Carolina's food supply is more immune to whatever happens next," said Weathers.

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So the next time you're perusing the grocery aisle or deciding which restaurant to visit, Commissioner Weathers encourages doing a little homework to see where you can buy Certified SC Grown products.

It's a thank you to those who ensured a steady food supply during a global pandemic straight from the farm to your table.

"When people make food-related decisions, just don't rush off without thinking a little bit, 'How can I help those dollars that I'm going to spend stay in South Carolina?' It helps us all!"

Agribusiness is the largest part of South Carolina's economy.

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