A proposed oilseed cooperative would allow Georgia farmers to “eliminate the middle man” and capture more income from crops such as soybeans and canola, says Billy Wayne Sellers, a southeast Georgia farmer who is serving as president of the newly formed Farmer's Oilseed Cooperative, Inc.

Sellers and other oilseed producers recently adopted by-laws and elected officers to form the new cooperative. “Now that we've formed the cooperative, our next step is to sell membership,” says Sellers, who farms in Appling County and is a director of the United Soybean Board. “This will be different from other cooperatives in that it will be farmer owned and operated and there won't be somebody else calling the shots.”

The Farmer's Oilseed Cooperative, he explains, will operate as a closed cooperative where a limited amount of stock is issued. Membership will cost farmers $100, and the cooperative will sell up to 10 million shares at $1.50 each. Each share will provide the holder the right and obligation to market half a hundredweight of oilseed. Each stockholder will have only one vote regardless of how many shares of stock he owns.

The cooperative will operate a three-phase processing facility that will be capable of crushing, refining and bottling oilseed. The facility primarily would convert seeds from canola and soybeans into oil, but it also could handle cotton and peanuts.

“If you're not a producer, then you can't be a member of this cooperative,” says Sellers. “The producer-members actually will own the stock and receive dividends. By forming a closed co-op, we're preventing big companies from coming in and taking our profits. And that's the bottom line — to increase grower profits from a bushel of soybeans or canola.

Ownership retained

“Technically, producers will own that bushel of soybeans or canola from the time they deliver it to the processing facility until the time it's put on a grocery shelf as a bottle of oil or sent to a feed mill or poultry processor.

“Then, at the end of the year when profits are distributed, growers will receive premiums for their crops.”

The co-op, he continues, will market oilseed products to grocery or other retail outlets. “Once the co-op is up and running, we'll hire management personnel to operate the plant, and we'll have marketers to sell the products.”

The co-op currently is housed in a temporary office at NESPAL in Tifton, says Sellers. “We don't know at this point where the co-op facility will be located. It probably will be wherever the biggest concentration of oilseed producers is located due to the logistics of hauling the crop.

“My guess is that it'll be located somewhere in the southeastern part of the state since that's where the majority of soybeans are grown.

Chatham County is the top soybean-producing county in Georgia. Many of the farmers there are double-cropping soybeans behind Vidalia onions.”

It's hoped, says Sellers, that the oilseed co-op will help to stem the declining acreage in Georgia of crops such soybeans and canola by giving farmers an alternative market.

“At one time, we had more than one million acres of soybeans in Georgia. The statewide acreage now averages from 180,000 to 200,000 acres. We also had anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 acres of canola, and that acreage is down to about 200 this year.

“We've already received commitments for about 75,000 acres of oilseed crops for the processing plant, and more than 20,000 of that is for canola. We'll need a total commitment of about 225,000 acres of oilseed to run the plant at full capacity. In the coming months, we'll be holding meetings and talking one-on-one with farmers to explain how the co-op will work.”

Once the co-op is up and running, participating farmers could expect a premium of approximately 60 cents per bushel for soybeans and about $1.40 per bushel for canola, according to a feasibility study conducted by the University of Georgia.

Production timeline

“From the point where we have sold all of the stock, we're probably looking at 18 months to two years before the processing plant is built and on line,” says Sellers.

If Georgia farmers are enthusiastic about building the processing plant, it's possible, he says, that the state will construct the facility and the co-op will enter a lease-purchase agreement with the state.

A board of co-op directors recently was elected according to adopted by-laws, with one member elected from each of the co-op's five districts — north, central, east, west and south. The board position for the north district currently is vacant.

Craig Lewis of Hart County was elected from the central district; Gerald Smith of Sumter County from the west district; Sellers of Appling County from the east district; and Marty McClendon of Early County from the south district.

Other members

The following six members were elected as at-large directors: Ben Deal, Sidney Bledsoe, Bill Crapps, Pat West, Randy Branch and Bart Waller. In addition to Sellers, the following directors were elected to offices: Marty McClendon, vice president; Gerald Smith, secretary; and Sidney Bledsoe, treasurer.

Farmers interested in joining the cooperative can contact any of the board members or call (229) 386-7274 and ask for the Farmer's Oilseed Cooperative, Inc. Information also is available at www.emergingcrops.org.