Farmers hope new co-op, seed will boost profits

Sunday, January 12, 2003

ALBANY, Ga. -- Georgia could be on the verge of a canola revival.

In the mid-1990s, Georgia farmers led the nation in the production of canola, a bean that produces a healthy cooking oil with half the saturated fat of other vegetable oils, and meal that can be used for poultry and livestock feed.

The effort was stymied by disease, freezing weather and the lack of a mill to crush the beans. But things may turn around, thanks to new varieties suitable for the Southeast and the planned construction of a $55 million crushing plant.

Farmer Morris King never lost confidence in canola and his 100 acres in northeast Georgia's Hart County may be the only commercial canola grown in the state this winter. He plans to join the co-op and believes the crushing mill could increase prices for both canola and soybeans.

His canola plants are only a few inches tall now, but by spring they'll be waist high and topped with yellow blooms.

"They're such a vivid yellow they almost hurt your eyes," King said.

University of Georgia agronomist Paul Raymer, who has spent about 12 years developing Southern canola, has already introduced a variety known as "Flint" that resists the disease that hurt the earlier effort. Other varieties are on the way.

"We know we can grow the crop," Raymer said. "The biggest problem is that there's no local market for it. There's a huge world market."

Most of North America's canola is grown in western Canada, where it is a $2 billion-a-year crop. North Dakota is the largest U.S. producer with a $151 million-a-year crop.

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