Economist meets with Ag Land Use Discussion Group
By Jessica Blomquist
The Agricultural Land Use Discussion group met on Thursday, June 12 at 6 p.m. to continue discussion on the potential formation of an agricultural cooperative in Morgan County.
Dr. Tommie Shepherd, an agribusiness economist with the University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, attended the meeting to deliver a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation on cooperatives.
According to their website, the CAED-sponsored Georgia Cooperative Development Center is “committed to helping groups in rural Georgia find ways to increase their profits from current and new activities by working together in cooperatives to add value to their products.”
Many of the 20 attendees were interested in creating a cooperative that would unite all producers in Morgan County, including beef, produce and dairy farmers.
“There are co-ops that do multiple products,” said Shepherd.
This would create a Morgan County brand that would ideally serve a 50-mile radius of customers. By tapping into the local markets of Clarke, Oconee, and other nearby counties, it would allow the cooperative to sell directly to grocery stores or restaurants and cut out the middle man, said Alison Moon, senior planner of Morgan County Planning and Development.
Shepherd’s PowerPoint presentation also offered information about value-added agricultural products. These are products with added attributes that increase the value of the product, and are symbolized on product packaging with stickers proclaiming the product to be Certified USDA Organic, American Grass-fed, Certified Humane, or Georgia Grown.
Shepherd’s research suggests that consumers are most willing to pay for locally grown food.
Further research showed that 94 percent of shoppers would prefer a “Georgia Grown” product at a similar price and quality to other products.
And one in three shoppers would pay 10 percent more for locally grown food.
“There’s a lot of interest in local foods,” said Shepherd.
The county commissioners have set a September 1 deadline for the cooperative to show their progress. Moon said the commissioners would need to see an emerging leadership, goals, number of interested participants and a potential source of funding.
“I hope this can really start to take off as a grassroots citizen movement,” said Moon.
The potential members of the cooperative can also pay the university to do a feasibility study to determine whether the proposed cooperative is feasible. The study would take approximately three to four months and would not start until after the summer.
A feasibility study will cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $10,000, said Shepherd.
“Don’t underestimate private resources you may have in this community to ask for donations,” Moon said at the meeting. The cooperative can also apply for USDA grant funds to do the study.
The next step in the process for the agricultural cooperative will be another meeting with Shepherd. This meeting will take place on July 10 at 6 p.m. in the Board Room of the new Administration Building on East Washington Street and will help those interested see how a cooperatives works, set up objectives, and create a plan to show the county commissioners.