Published on 04/26/01

Farmers to Meet on Proposed Oilseed Co-op

Georgia oilseed farmers hope a new-generation cooperative for oilseeds will help them bring money and jobs into rural Georgia. The co-op is now in the early stages of development.

The co-op will market oilseed (canola, soybean, cotton and peanut) products to grocery or other retail outlets. A meeting for farmers interested in the co-op is scheduled May 3 at the Georgia Farm Bureau building in Macon, Ga.

"This will bring the farmers a greater dollar value and infuse jobs and money into Georgia's rural economy," said Randy Hudson, coordinator of the Emerging Crops and Technologies Center of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

And the Study Says

A UGA CAES study funded by the governor's office says such a facility could be built and economically supported in Georgia. The crushing and refining facility would primarily convert seeds from canola and soybeans into oils. But it could handle cotton and peanuts, too.

To get the facility up and running, according to the study, would cost about $56 million. However, it would add about $172 million in economic activity to the Georgia economy.

Running the facility at full capacity would take about 250,000 acres of oilseed, said George Shumaker, a UGA Extension Service economist. Besides the 53 jobs it would create directly, about 1,100 jobs would be created indirectly, mostly in rural Georgia.

Domestic Market Battle

Most of the canola used in the United States comes from Canada. This new facility will help Georgia farmers compete for the domestic canola market, Hudson said.

Canola oil is the preferred oil for many uses because it doesn't change the taste of food, Hudson said. It's used for home cooking, bakeries and salad oils, and some restaurants fry foods with it.

Forming a farmer-owned canola facility in Georgia would have little effect on the price of canola oil for consumers, Shumaker said.

But farmers will have to come together for such a facility to work, said Marty McLendon, a Calhoun County farmer who has grown canola in the past.

Independent Together

"We want to remain individuals, but we have to be independent together," McLendon said. "We have to have a large number of growers join forces and get a supply large enough that we can have a stable supply on the grocery store shelf. That's the only way we're going to survive farming.

"If we can get a plant or processing facility to let the farmers gain more control in the marketplace," McLendon said, "it's got very good potential. We've got to get a market established. That's the main holdback for the expansion of canola."

Growing and selling canola won't turn around the current farm crisis "by any means," McLendon said. "We can't grow enough to do that. But it would be another tool in the diversity of agriculture. (It) gives us something else to work with."

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.