Austin Rizer, a junior at Clemson University, says creating regional cooperative associations and marketing value-added products may provide opportunities for Southern agriculture to be more competitive in a global market.

Rizer’s essay, “The Future of Agriculture in the Southern United States,” earned the biology and hospital management major a $4,000 second-place prize in the Future of Southern Agriculture student essay contest sponsored by Syngenta and Farm Press Publications.

“The Southern United States farmer is at a distinct disadvantage in the world export market,” Rizer wrote in his essay. “Our yield is less, our inputs are higher and our labor force for farming is dwindling. At the current time, the United States cannot compete at any level with raw world exports ….”

He said vertical integration, with farmers teaming up to offer value-added products in attractive quantities, could give them an advantage. “It just seems like a good solution,” he said from the family farm just days before returning to the Clemson campus for his junior year. “Cooperatives provide better market options.”

In his essay he wrote: “Southern United States farmers could form a regional district comprised of Southern states. The … district may attract value-added businesses, which would utilize the raw products. Value-added products increase the chances of successful competition. The United States currently has a technological advantage over other nations as well as an established infrastructure to deliver goods to world and United States markets.”

He wrote that anticipated population growth makes increased efficiency even more important.

“By the year 2050, the current agricultural business model will not be successful in feeding the projected population. By using a vertically integrated business model, diversifying value added products, and increasing the profitability of research and development, the agricultural industry would be healthy and that health would spread to the people through an ample … food supply.”

Rizer grew up on a diversified farm in the South Carolina Low Country, near Walterboro. His father and uncle work the land together and also own a restaurant.

“My uncle takes care of most of the farm duties and Dad runs the restaurant.”

He said his father works a lot on business finances and that encouraged him to consider strategies to improve the economics for Southern farmers as he looked for an essay topic.

He plans a career in hospital administration but does not rule out returning to the farm. “I enjoy working on the farm,” he said, “and would come back, but income is inconsistent.”

He follows a family tradition as a Clemson University student. His grandfather, father and uncle all went to Clemson. “My mom went there for a year; that’s where she met my dad. She graduated from Furman.”

In mid-August Rizer was working on the family farm and preparing to go back to school. “I can’t wait to get back,” he said.

He said his prize money will “all go to pay tuition.”

To read all the winning essays, go to www.FutureofSouthernAg.com, and click on the official winners link.

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com