Alternative agriculture opportunities abound

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

At the coffee shop, conversations about the economy are peppered with adjectives such as "bad," "depressing" and "scary."

The facts are that more storefronts are vacant, especially in small towns. Thorngate in Cape Girardeau closed its doors within the last 24 months, leaving many unemployed.

Universities, colleges and other educational institutions are facing budget reductions in the next few months and years.

Everyone agrees that all of this economic doom and gloom would suggest that Southeast Missouri and the surrounding Heartland is in for hard economic times.

On the other hand, because of our assets -- coupled with the right leadership and cooperation between governmental bodies, educational institutions and civic organizations -- along with a renewal of the entrepreneurial spirit, alternative agriculture enterprises in Southeast Missouri can become a shining star in the economic rebound of America.

Southeast Missouri is crisscrossed with interstate highways, situated between St. Louis and Memphis just a few hours away from Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta, Birmingham and other metropolitan areas that need agricultural products to feed their population.

Nestled in its valleys are the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, aqueous highways upon which bulk products such as fertilizer and lime can be transported to support alternative agriculture activities.

We are blessed with electricity and natural gas distribution systems.

In addition, our farm-to-market roads make it economical for agricultural inputs to be taken to the farm and for farm products to be transported to markets.

One other asset that will become more crucial in the near future is water. Thanks to the Mississippi River and the Ohio River, Southeast Missouri and the Heartland are blessed with a copious water supply.

Currently the majority of noncommodity food consumed in the United States comes from California and Florida. Both of these states, especially California, are concerned about dwindling water supplies and the need for water rationing.

Water is becoming a significant input cost for food production.

According to the United Nations Environment Program unit, it is estimated that 80 percent of the world's food will be produced on irrigated land by the year 2025.

The asset of water that we have in the Heartland will play a significant role in our ability to produce food for America.

Another interesting fact about rural Missouri is the number of farms that we have.

A farm is defined as an acreage that produces $1,000 or more of income in a year.

We have about 105,000 farms in Missouri, second in number only to Texas.

This translates into the fact that in 2002 41 percent of the farms in Missouri were smaller than 99 acres.

Farms of 99 acres or less are not conducive for large row-crop operations, but they are perfect for intensive horticulture operations.

The horticultural operations that can fit into our asset base are organic food production, natural food production, orchards, fruits and berry operations, sod farms, greenhouse operations and ornamental nursery-stock production.

Both Southeast Missouri State University and the University of Missouri have recognized the economic potential of horticultural production on small acreages.

Southeast Missouri State University has been teaching Jump Start entrepreneurship classes for the last five years to individuals who are interested in using their land assets to produce income.

The University of Missouri has developed a similar program called Grow Your Farm and is currently offering the short course to citizens of the Heartland.

We live in an agricultural area. Let's use the assets we have of infrastructure, transportation, water, small acreages, educational institutions and our citizens in order to develop a viable economy based in part on horticultural activities.

Dr. Paul Schnare is the owner of Sunny Hill Gardens & Florist in Cape Girardeau and an instructor in the Department of Agriculture at Southeast Missouri State University.

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