College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences; Public Service and Agriculture

Palmetto LEAF program aims to create leadership pipeline for S.C. agribusiness industry


Palmetto LEAF logo with deer, crops, lake and trees

CLEMSON — Every impactful industry has influential leaders. Tech or retail, manufacturing or finance, service or hospitality, all require nimble, networked, principled visionaries. These individuals are people at the top of their games, who are passionate about shaping the future of their industries.

Now, Clemson University has created a program to help identify and cultivate leaders for the state’s largest economic sector –agribusiness – including forestry and related natural resource industries.

Palmetto Leadership Program for the Environment, Agriculture and Forestry, or Palmetto LEAF, is a two-year intensive instructional, experiential learning and networking program designed to push agribusiness, forestry and environmental professionals to their ultimate career goals and create a leadership pipeline for the state’s $42 billion agribusiness industry.

Palmetto LEAF is directed by Clemson University’s College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences (CAFLS) and Public Service and Agriculture (PSA) Division.

Palmetto LEAF Director Kirby Player said other states have had agricultural leadership programs, with the first developed in Michigan in 1965, and the idea for a South Carolina version has been discussed for a few years.

“The importance of South Carolina’s agriculture, forestry and natural resources industries cannot be overstated in terms of both economic impact and their role in shaping the lives of South Carolinians. That’s why Clemson’s CAFLS and PSA decided that now is the time to provide an avenue through which the state’s best and brightest can lift these industries even higher and take the next steps in their careers,” Player said.

According to Player, Palmetto LEAF participants will gain insights from top leaders and professionals, network with each other and industry influencers, visit and interact with related industries in neighboring states and discover strategies for achieving work-life balance.

The program takes two years to complete and culminates with participants choosing and developing a practicum project designed to make a difference in their sphere of influence.

South Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers said Palmetto LEAF will be an accelerant to the state’s already strong agribusiness industry.

“The primary reason that SCDA was created 140 years ago is still true today. That is to promote and nurture the growth and development of South Carolina’s agriculture industry and its related businesses. We see Palmetto LEAF as an important part of ensuring the agriculture industry continues to grow and our farmers continue to prosper,”  Weathers said.

The program is advised by a board comprised of representatives from the Palmetto Agribusiness Council, South Carolina DHEC, South Carolina DNR, South Carolina Farm Bureau, Forestry Association of South Carolina,  South Carolina Forestry Commission, South Carolina Department of Agriculture and South Carolina State University USDA Liaison.

Dr. Jean Bertrand, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies in CAFLS, proposed the idea of the Palmetto LEAF program.  “Agriculture, forestry and natural resources comprise the number one industry in South Carolina.  Since it’s founding, Clemson University has supplied these industries with qualified graduates.  The Palmetto LEAF program will expand this mission and ensure that these industries maintain a pool of well-equipped leaders to meet employment needs.” Bertrand said.

According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the average age of farmers has been trending consistently upward for 30 years and South Carolina farmers are part of that trend with an average age of 58.3. Palmetto LEAF is designed in part to help sustain the state’s agribusiness industry for future generations and equip leaders in key segments that support the economic engines of agriculture, forestry and the natural resources of South Carolina.

Palmetto LEAF applicants should be South Carolina residents fully engaged in South Carolina agriculture, forestry or natural resources, or environmental stewardship.  Participants will be chosen based on their leadership potential, career stage and characteristics such as communication skills, integrity, growth potential and analytical skills.  Applicants must be at least 28 years old by January 15, 2020.

Applications for Class I (January 2020-December 2022) must be completed and submitted or postmarked no later than Nov. 4, 2019. For online application and to learn more about Palmetto LEAF and applicant eligibility, visit

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