COLUMBIA -- A three-year-old marketing campaign touting South Carolina produce and farm products could create as many as 10,000 jobs a year, a study released Friday says.
Those estimates come from a $45,000 study funded by the state Agriculture Department and performed by the University of South Carolina's business school.
The projections were based on similar marketing programs in North Carolina and Georgia that have been going on longer than the Certified SC Grown program.
Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers says the state spends about $1 million a year on the program and participating farmers spend about $7 million a year to market their goods as Certified SC Grown.
"I think it's the best thing in about 15 to 20 years to hit the South Carolina Department of Agriculture," said Tom Trantham, a 69-year-old organic-dairy farmer who runs the Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer. "I know our customers are just raving about the quality of our fresh local-grown products."
Trantham sells milk bottled at his farm as well as products from other farmers, much of which is labeled as Certified SC Grown.
"It sells better with the sticker than not," Trantham said.
Under the program, farmers must apply and be inspected by the state Agriculture Department to become a certified grower. The farmers then will buy marketing materials to designate their goods as certified.
"The poor little farmer don't have any way to reach the people, and I think it's a great idea for reaching people," Christopher Johnson, a 66-year-old produce farmer from Aiken County, said of the program. "At the market where we are, I see a larger crowd, there's more people coming out and I think that's why."
USC research economist Doug Woodward, who led the study, says more people are looking to buy local.
"There's a sea change in attitudes among consumers that just wasn't there a few years ago," he said. "People are beginning to realize the value of having local agriculture. And I don't believe that was true 10 years ago."
According to a consumer survey conducted for the study, respondents said they were willing to pay about 25 percent more for locally grown produce and animal products.
But, by and large, the locally grown produce is competitively priced, said Christopher Ibsen, spokesman for Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co., which operates 103 grocery stores in South Carolina and eastern Georgia.
"Our first call and our first look around the market is is it something we can buy in South Carolina," Ibsen said. "I think the biggest challenge, which the Department of Agriculture has been a great partner in, is helping to bridge the relationships between us as a retailer and a farmer as a supplier."
The study said if the campaign reaches all South Carolina consumers, total sales would increase by $17 million a year. Those new sales would create about 7,350 jobs directly related to the business of growing, making and selling the agricultural products and another 2,700 jobs in related activities.
According to the study, agriculture's three basic components of farming, food processing and forest-based products accounted for $11.6 billion in economic activity 2006 -- or about 8 percent of the state's total economic output -- and employed more than 98,000 people.