2006-10-18 / Agriculture

New opportunities in agriculture

Biodiesel, ethanol, agritourism, organic markets and value-added products. What do all of these have in common? They provide farmers with more opportunities to market and promote their product and capture a portion of the value added past the farm gate. Opportunities also exist for producers to become part of the energy business.

"Agriculture is poised to enter a totally new era. It has always been about food security but now it is also about eliminating our dependence on foreign energy," says Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission. "I would rather depend on a farmer to fuel my car than some stranger in a foreign land."

Georgia's agri-economy, which encompasses all facets of food and fiber, is strong and healthy according to several recent reports by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development (CAED). The 2005 Farm Gate Value Report by the CAED shows the value of food and fiber produced in the state grew by 2.8 percent over 2004. When combined with agribusinesses dependent on products produced here, such as peanut shelling or milk processing, the total value

grows to over $30 billion, making food and fiber related businesses the largest part of Georgia's economy.

"In order to keep the agri-economy healthy and strong, new business opportunities must be uncovered daily and communities must adopt sound economic development policies," says John McKissick, CAED coordinator.

Samples of current CAED projects include an ethanol feasibility study, pearl millet marketing cooperative and various organic marketing studies. While the agri-economy is healthy, farmers struggling from low commodity prices and the impact of adverse weather are searching for new opportunities to sustain their economic viability.

"Peanuts have the potential to provide a valuable contribution to the biodiesel industry due to their high oil yields," says Dan Geller, researcher with the University of Georgia Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

Researchers at the University of Georgia are working towards finding a peanut variety that already exists that can provide a source of oil for biodiesel production. The "industrial peanut" would be selected strictly for oil production and would therefore not compete with the food market.

Farmers in Southwest Georgia have already taken steps to build a corn based ethanol plant in Mitchell County. This will provide another outlet for a crop that provides a good rotation for peanuts and cotton.

"This provides a different avenue for marketing crops and puts farmers in the energy business," says Murray Campbell, farmer in Mitchell County and board member of First United Ethanol, LLC. "I firmly believe Georgia is sitting in the driver's seat as far as renewable fuels. This corn based ethanol plant will lead us into other avenues of renewable fuels."

First United Ethanol, LLC, will need 36 to 40 million bushels of corn. Current plans, according to Campbell, are for the plant to begin production the second quarter of 2008.

Farmers have also taken advantage of adding value to their crops by becoming part of shelling cooperatives. In Donalsonville and Tifton, farmers have begun marketing their peanuts as a group.

According to Nathan Smith, University of Georgia peanut economist, changes to the peanut program in 2002 served as a catalyst to speed up adoption of newer technologies and created a window of opportunity for growerowned processing and marketing of peanuts.

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