Bowman farmer Hugh Weathers is seeking his sixth term as the South Carolina commissioner of agriculture.
The Republican is facing United Citizens Party candidate Chris Nelums and Green Party candidate David Edmond in the Nov. 8 general election.
Weathers defeated challengers Bill Bledsoe and Rob Rozier Jr. in June to win the Republican nomination. No Democrats filed for the position.
It is a rematch of the 2018 general election in which Weathers won with 76% of the vote.
Weathers also faced Edmond in 2014 when Edmond ran as a United Citizens Party candidate. That year Weathers received 80% of the vote.
Weathers has served as agriculture commissioner since 2004 after having been appointed to complete the two-year term of then-suspended Commissioner Charles Sharpe.
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Weathers is a fourth-generation farmer who lives in his native Bowman.
During his 18-year tenure at the head of the state’s agriculture department, Weathers has helped create Certified SC Grown. The program is designed to help consumers buy locally grown produce and support in-state agriculture.
The department has also introduced the Agribusiness Center for Research and Entrepreneurship, which has been described as an industry-driven agriculture initiative that seeks to provide economic prosperity for S.C. agribusiness through targeted research and competitive entrepreneurial incentives.
Weathers said he believes his greatest success as commissioner has been to elevate the agriculture industry to “be recognized as vital to our state’s future” and “always focusing on helping shape the future opportunities for our farmers in South Carolina.”
Weathers cites a number of priorities if re-elected.
- Creating an agribusiness development fund to support agribusinesses in the state that want to expand.
Weathers sees great promise in agribusiness.
“Economic growth through expansion of agribusinesses,” he said. “The impact of agribusiness on our state’s economy is greater than any other industry.”
Weathers said he will also advocate for the “further diversification of our crop mix with those crops that have a higher revenue per acre.”
- Expanding the department’s research and entrepreneurial center to support innovative ideas that impact the future of farming in South Carolina.
- Creating initiatives that remove some of the barriers to entry for those wanting to start a farming career.
Weathers said the SCDA has worked with Clemson University to help provide new and beginning farmer programs in order to help attract the younger generation of farming.
“We have an ag entrepreneur center at SCDA to support the new ideas to help agriculture,” Weathers said, adding he has also supported the expansion of ag programs in high schools and community colleges.
Weathers said he has also supported the new Governor’s School of Agriculture at the John de la Howe campus in McCormick.
- Focusing on added efficiency and effectiveness in the vast regulatory consumer protection responsibilities.
Weathers said the SCDA under his leadership has sought to provide farmers “as as many opportunities for new markets” for crops in a time when sustaining margins over the costs of inputs is a big challenge.
There is also the challenge of navigating the field of regulations that can fluctuate based on who is in charge in the nation’s capital.
“Regulations can be a challenge,’ Weathers said. “For the farmers that SCDA works with, the goal is to educate before we regulate.”
“Most regulations are science-based,” he said. “With every change in administration in Washington, that is subject to change. With the current administration, some regulation now trends toward less science-based.”
Weathers said the SCDA has aimed to work with farmers so they can achieve the certifications necessary to access their best market.
Weathers said in light of rising input costs, the SCDA earlier this year reached out to the fertilizer industry leadership to assure farmers of availability of inputs.
“I have always worked with other leaders to secure a fair farm bill legislation in Washington, focusing on crop-insurance support over the last few years,” Weathers said.
Weathers has had to navigate a multi-pronged flux of issues, both pressing and perrenial.
There is the COVID-induced backlog of cattle processing in the state.
Weathers said he has visited with most of the state’s beef processors to better know what their challenges are around expansion.
“SCDA has been and will continue to work to secure funding to assist in their expansion,” Weathers said.
There are constant transportation and labor issues.
Weathers said he will also work with the South Carolina Department of Transportation to make sure roads and bridges are safe for the transportation of farm goods.
“Our secondary roads across the state are a lifeline for farmers delivering the products to market and for delivery of inputs like feed vital to their operations,” Weathers said.
Weathers said he supports a guest-worker program that is fair and “doesn’t place a premium labor cost on the farmer.”
“Separate the manageable guest-worker program from the rest of the politically charged immigration challenges,” Weathers said.
In conjunction with trying to attract young people into farming, Weathers noted he has been at the forefront of conservation programs that save farm land from urban encroachment.
“I served on the State Conservation Land Bank Board before becoming commissioner of agriculture,” he said. “It promotes conservation easements and other means by which farmers can realize some of the market value of their property while still farming it.”
Weathers was raised in Bowman and graduated from Bowman Academy.
He then went on to graduate magna cum laude from the University of South Carolina in 1978, earning bachelor’s degrees in accounting and finance.
In 2019, the University of South Carolina awarded him an honorary doctorate of humanities in public service.
In farming his entire life, Weathers has managed several ag-related family businesses, including trucking of bulk milk for other farms. He also worked in corporate banking before returning to family farm.
Throughout his career, Weathers has served on United Dairy Industry Association, Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, American Dairy Association of South Carolina, South Carolina Dairy Association, South Carolina Farm Bureau legislative committee and political action committee, South Carolina Conservation Bank, AgSouth Farm Credit Association, and Greater Bowman Business Development Council.
Weathers is married to Blanche Gramling Weathers of Spartanburg County and together they have three sons and soon to be six grandchildren.
A native of Newberry County, Edmond was born in Prosperity in 1961 and was raised by his sharecropping grandfather in Batesburg-Leesville.
Edmond says his life experiences have prepared him for the position of South Carolina commissioner of agriculture.
“I experienced firsthand the obstacles that small independent farmers face on a daily basis,” Edmond said. “I run for this office in honor of my grandfather.”
Growing up in Lexington County, Edmond also remembers gardening with his parents and picking peanuts with his aunt.
Edmond says the time is now for someone with fresh and new ideas to become the leader of the state’s agriculture department and that he is the right person for the position.
“Weathers receives donations from big agriculture,” Edmond said. “I never have and never will.”
“Weathers is ready to retire, and I’m just getting started,” Edmond said. “I’m not stuck in old thinking. Weathers has ignored the fact that the weather is changing and that farming will have to change. I’ll help our farmers get ready for the future.”
“Hugh Weathers has been in office for 17 years,” Edmond said. “I would ask farmers, are you better off today then you were last year? 5 years ago? 10 years ago?”
Edmond said he has a number of priorities but predicts his biggest accomplishment as commissioner would be development of an in-state veterinary program.
“My biggest accomplishment in my first year will be a fully funded and detailed proposal presented to the state legislature for a College of Veterinary Medicine,” Edmond said.
Other goals Edmond cited include:
- Expansion of the state’s agritourism program and SC certified grown program.
- Giving greater exposure to the state farmers markets
“We are lucky to live in a state with 25,000 farms and we need to continue to highlight the importance of buying not only local, but organic when possible,” Edmond said.
- Conducting an aggressive outreach to all parties involved to further develop the SC-farm-to-schools program.
- Become a leading state for organic farming and hemp production.
- Help farms become electrically independent.
Edmond said right now farmers are facing a number of challenges, including high fuel/fertilizer costs; labor costs and loss of farmland to development.
He said some ways he will tackle high costs is by working with the state legislature to alleviate taxation wherever possible for the farmers.
Edmond said he would also develop a renewable energy grant program and would grow the guest-worker program.
“We need to increase our guest-worker program to help with labor costs,” he said.
Edmond said the state’s Department of Agriculture can and should be doing a number of things that he sees as not being done currently.
- The development of a community-outreach program to farmers to ensure their concerns are listened to and understood.
- Ensuring that products that are sold in farmers markets are actually from the state.
- Having a grant program that highlights environmentally friendly farming practices.
- Having a grant program that funds innovative techniques.
- Better showcase and highlight the state’s vineyards.
Edmond said as commissioner he would seek to “balance the concerns of the ag industry and the effects on our environment.”
“We can’t have one without the other,” Edmond said. “Food-safety regulations are needed to ensure that our products are safe for the public.”
Looking at the younger generation, Edmond said it is important the SCDA work with the state’s Future Farmers of America and universities to develop a plan that creates a vertical pipeline that integrates learning development from school to college to farm.
Edmond said to attract the young to farming, he would support the establishment of FFA scholarship programs.
Edmond said he would also be at the forefront in protecting farmland for current and future generations.
“The success of our state has led many people to move here, which is a good thing,” Edmond said. “This also creates a problem of developers buying our farmland. We need to protect our current farmlands and help farmers purchase new land.”
Edmond also addressed cattle backlogs due to COVID and transportation issues.
When it comes to the cattle backlog due to COVID, Edmond said, “We need to incentivize the operational small lockers and butchers to help with supply issues and as a counterpoint to the consolidation of the meatpacking industry.”
“We will work with the SCDOT as much as possible to ensure the timely delivery of our goods,” Edmond continued. “Clogged roads are not only bad for the environment but also for the bottom line of the farmers themselves.”
Growing up in Lexington County, Edmond graduated from Batesburg-Leesville High School and continued his education at Allen University in Columbia, where he received a bachelor of arts in religion.
Edmond then attended Hood Theological Seminary and ordained with the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME) church for 28 years. He has served as a pastor during those years.
In addition, Edmond worked as an inspector at Manchester Farms as a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee and was formerly the station manager at WVCD at Voorhees College.
Edmond previously ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Richland District 1 school board in 2011.
Edmond has sat on the Columbia Community Relations Council Board, has served on the Richland/Lexington Disabilities and Special Needs Board.
Edmond has been married to his wife Angela for 27 years and has three daughters.
Nelums said he will not be bought by ideology and gatekeeping practices that he says have been a part of the department.
“Everyone is welcome,” Nelums said.
Nelums said he has a vision and the capacity to develop an infrastructure and an agribusiness plan that benefits every South Carolinian.
“I am running for commissioner of agriculture because our work over the next four years has the potential to reduce poverty, narrow economic disparities and provide food security for everyone in our state,” Nelums said. “Our land holds the key to restoring the fiscal health and vitality of our households. Through industry access and local partnerships with our farmers, we will uproot the gatekeeping practices grandfathered into holding our farmers and South Carolinians behind.”
On Day 1, Nelums says he will enact his 10-50-5 Plan:
The plan will authorize debtors to postpone tax payments, foreclosures and sales for low-wage earning landowners.
“Landowners of at least five years who own 50 acres or less, will receive tax relief for a maximum of 10 years,” Nelums said. “Mute litigation for economically disadvantaged South Carolinians and deploy legal assistance to prevent land loss and property loss.”
Nelums’ priorities also include:
- Serving as a partner and chief sales person for farmers.
- Providing an equipment-leasing opportunity for local farmers.
- Expanding the hemp farming industry. One way Nelums proposes to do so would be to do “away with gatekeeping practices that inhibit South Carolina’s growth as a viable hemp state.”
- Working with the current governor and state legislators across the aisle to decriminalize hemp.
- Ensuring infrastructure and logistics for moving commodities across the state and abroad to ensure sales for farmers.
- Bringing farming back to schools via farm entrepreneurship programs and the curriculum. He said in order to attract young people into farming, he would also advocate that farming to be taught in elementary public schools.
- Reducing the number of acres required to qualify for farm loans and agribusiness opportunities.
Nelums said he would help farmers access resources available to them as one “who understands the business of farming and agriculture.”
He said he would also expand funding and deploy local resources to help farmers get by during these challenging times of high input costs.
Nelums said he would also be the voice for Black minority farmers as well as Hispanics and women with the goal of helping them increase their opportunities.
He said current regulations on farmers are “unfair and place undo restraints,” resulting in an increase in inflation.
“I stand on the side of the farmers,” Nelums said. “My work and my focus will be supporting the people and the cornerstones that uphold South Carolina commerce.”
Nelums said he would continue to support funding for the collection and disposal of old farm pesticides.
“However, the current funding is not adequate,” he said.
For COVID-induced cattle processing backlogs, Nelums said he would have a solution for the issue.
“I would strengthen the administrative offices with a project-management officer and staff dedicated to administration and backlog,” Nelums said.
He said he would also continue to have a working relationship with the SCDOT, making sure roads and bridges are safe for the transportation of farm goods.
“Transportation of farm commodities falls on this office,” Nelums said.
Nelums also said he will be on the frontlines of promoting conservation programs to save farmlands as well as to “assist with the reduction of climate change, regenerative agriculture and soil conservation, as well as preserving and replenishing South Carolina’s natural resources.”
A native of Columbia, Nelums is a graduate of W.J. Keenan High School in Richland County.
He attended Midlands Technical College, where he studied computer programming and accounting. He then went on to Dickerson Theological Seminary (Allen University) and graduated from Benedict College with a bachelor of science in religion and philosophy.
In 1990, Nelums entered the ministry of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He served as a pastor for over 20 years.
In 2010, Nelums expanded Speak to My Heart Ministries, Inc. and opened the first Speak to My Heart Ministries Church in Winnsboro, where he serves as CEO.
Nelums has established a number of summer-enrichment programs as well as after-school programs at Speak to My Heart Ministries for children.
Nelums has also been an entrepreneur since 1985 and has founded several businesses, including Midlands Linen Service. He has been owner and operator of Nelltech LLC.
It is not the first time Nelums has run for public office. He was a 2004 and 2008 candidate for the state senate in Richland County.
Nelums is married to the former Janet L. Dickerson. They have four children and 16 grandchildren, including four sets of grand twins.
Nelums enjoys spending time with his family and grandchildren, being involved in economic and community development, pastoring in communities and offering ministry to the people of the state.