Six candidates running for governor agreed Friday that agribusiness is crucial to South Carolina but each told an audience of farm and business leaders he has the best vision for the $34 billion industry.
From biofuels to better planning, six of the 10 gubernatorial candidates shared their views at the state's annual Agribusiness Summit.
The summit, sponsored by the Palmetto Institute, a nonpartisan and nonprofit research group, focused on the goal of growing agribusiness to a $50 billion industry by 2020.
Columbia lawyer Dwight Drake, Charleston attorney Mullins McLeod and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, all Democrats, attended as did Republicans Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, state Sen. Larry Grooms and Attorney General Henry McMaster.
Sheheen promised he would include the agriculture commissioner in cabinet meetings and "work to reinvent the historic mission of Clemson University."
He said he would restore cuts made to the Clemson Extension "which in my opinion has been one of the worst things to happen in state government over the past several years."
Drake said the state commerce and agriculture departments need to work together and the state needs to do a better job of teaching students the importance of agriculture.
"There is a huge business opportunity here that's unrecognized in terms of the impacts," he said.
McLeod said developing alternative fuels would help the state economy and its farmers because fuel and fertilizer are the biggest expense for farmers.
If farmers can grow soybeans for ethanol "it can reduce the price of crude oil and in those same fields he can't afford to plant now, he takes control of his own destiny," McLeod said
Bauer suggested the Commerce Department have regional offices "to facilitate a better environment agribusiness in the state" and said one of the state's ports should be designated an agribusiness port.
Grooms promised to look at regulations that may prevent some farming activities and suggested the agriculture, commerce and transportation departments "sit down regularly and discuss what's it going to take to move rural South Carolina forward."
McMaster said the state needs an overall plan for developing agriculture.
"We have assets _ we have land, we have forests, we have water, we have many miles of roads, we have ports and we have farmers. What we lack is organization," he said.
Two other Democrats, Education Superintendent Jim Rex and state Sen. Robert Ford, are also running for governor as are Republican U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and Republican state Rep. Nikki Haley.