July 13, 2008

Will Farmers Create Canola Co-Op?

By Kelly Kazek, The News Courier, Athens, Ala.

Jul. 13--Limestone County farmers are thinking of ways to turn their crops to gold.

Most every corner of the county has been awash in bright yellow hues since April when the Bridgeforth family's canola crops began to bloom, soon followed by Nobie Daly's acres of sunflowers.

While the sunny colors often draw smiles from passersby, the farmers have more practical results in mind: The Bridgeforths are selling crops for oil and Daly will sell his seeds.

But Robert Davis, a representative of the Winterville, Ga., firm AgStrong, said farmers who plant these crops could benefit from having a farmer-owned processing facility in Limestone County.

"It's a good region for the canola and we want to provide an opportunity to strengthen the market for the farmers and give them ownership in a facility," Davis said.

Ernst Cebert with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at Alabama A&M near Huntsville said a facility here would help lower farmers' fuel expenses.

"It's of importance because the transportation cost is usually one overhead that takes away from the profit of the farmer and also from the profit of the buyer," Cebert said. "Right now, the canola grown by Billy Bridgeforth has to be driven four or five hours to Georgia. That really cuts into their profits."

Davis and Cebert will host a meeting at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Elkmont Depot to discuss with area farmers the possibility of creating a co-operative facility to crush, or process, canola and sunflower in Limestone County. Bridgeforth also will speak at the meeting, as will Brian Caldbeck, a representative of Miles Enterprises, a firm selected by the United States Canola Association to promote canola in the southeast.

Speakers also will provide information to farmers considering planting canola this fall or sunflowers next summer.

Other products

AgStrong buys canola from the Bridgeforths and produces oil for food companies, said Cebert.

To encourage more production of canola here, the firm would fund building a facility but hopes farmers will be interested in ownership and form a co-op to operate it.

About 7,000 to 10,000 acres of canola would need to be planted to make a plant feasible, Cebert said.

The Bridgeforths planted 500 acres of canola in 2007 to be harvested this year, Billy Bridgeforth said. He said the family will likely plant the same amount this fall.

"We learned a lot so we just want to try to see if we can handle 500 acres better than we did in 2007," he said.

Daly planted 500 acres of sunflowers.

Davis said AgStrong plans to locate an engineer in Alabama to work with farmers.

"We worked with the farmers here last year on the canola," he said. "We will put in the facility and provide the market for the profit."

The facility could potentially provide farmers another way to make money from their crops, Cebert said.

"If this comes to fruition, the growers themselves can decide to produce much more oil than Davis is willing to buy and the excess can be converted to biodiesel for fuel."

Cebert said the oils can be mixed together to create diesel and offer a savings to farmers in fuel expenses.

"There's a great deal of potential for it," he said.

Also, farmers could sell the meal for livestock feed. After the oil is extracted, the remainder of canola and sunflower plants can be crushed to create the feed, he said.

Cebert said the profit AgStrong makes is from "buying canola and crushing it" into meal.

"The oil covers the overhead," he said. "They sell the meal for profit."

Cebert has hopes for a co-op and increased canola and sunflower crops here.

"Growers are very smart people," he said. "It seems as if there's a likelihood this can come to be a success."


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