By Brad Haire
University of Georgia
The Southwest Georgia Cooperative Development Center was established this month through a partnership between the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development and the Golden Triangle RC&D in Blakely, Ga. A $190,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant provided funds.
IncubatorThe center is designed to be a co-op incubator. It will help people in southwest Georgia organize co-ops to improve their effectiveness and profits. Successfully doing this will bring more jobs and income to this rural part of the state, said CAED coordinator John McKissick.
The center’s office will be in Albany, Ga. It will focus efforts in nine southwest Georgia counties (Baker, Calhoun, Decatur, Early, Dougherty, Grady, Miller, Mitchell and Seminole). It will provide help, though, to groups in other parts of the state.
"A cooperative is a unique business structure for agricultural producers and landowners to do jointly what they could not do individually," McKissick said.
It will enable them to lower costs, increase bargaining power, expand markets and improve products and services.
With low commodity prices and higher production costs, farmers and landowners have felt the pinch of a sour U.S. farm economy. But by pooling resources into a co-op, he said, they can better weather the bad times and take advantage of good economic times.
PotentialFrom crop marketing to hunting, fishing and nature-based tourism, the potential is great for farm co-ops in Georgia, he said. They have already proven successful in parts of the Midwest.
"This is something we've been trying to get going in this area for three years," said H. Joe Nichols, Golden Triangle RC&D president. "Now, it's finally here."
The center already has an agritourism cooperative established under its wings. Southwest Georgia Escapes is a nine-member farmer co-op. It hopes to lure tourists to the area by offering hunting and fishing trips, nature trails and camping areas.
"It's getting harder and harder to make a living with just your row-crop farming," said Dan Giles, a co-op member who is offering hunting packages on his family farm in Clay County. "This is just a way to try and keep our land and make it work for us."
A CAED study shows a much higher demand than supply for farm- and nature-based tourism in Georgia right now.
For information about the center, contact your county UGA Extension Service offices or go to www.swgacoop.com.
(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)