Mid-Atlantic area is favored for an organic grain plant Farmers could switch to $21-a-bushel beans


March 11, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

An Illinois company said yesterday that it wants to build an organic grain processing plant in the mid-Atlantic area that could open the door to Maryland farmers getting paid three times as much for their soybeans.

"There is great demand for edible organic soybeans around the world, especially in Japan, and this presents a good opportunity for growers in Maryland and surrounding states," said Lynn Clarkson, president of Clarkson Grain Co. Inc., in Cerro Gordo, a suburb of Decatur.

Clarkson said his company is ready to invest between $1 million and $2.5 million on a regional conditioning plant if enough farmers are willing to shift to organic production of corn and soybeans.

He said the company has discussed its expansion plans with economic development officials in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia and is prepared to make its decision on a site within 60 days.

The plant would pick up soybeans from farmers, clean the beans, regulate the moisture content, sort them according to size and package them for delivery to food processors. It would operate with about eight people.

Clarkson said the company pays between $19.50 and $21.50 a bushel for soybeans, and its minimum price for yellow corn is $4 a bushel. For white corn, the firm pays $5 to $5.50 a bushel.

That compares with an average price of $7.10 a bushel that Maryland farmers received for conventional soybeans last year and $3.10 a bushel for corn.

"The big factor here is that it creates another market for organic grains," said John Hall, a Kent County cooperative extension agent with the University of Maryland.

Hall said a market was first created in the region last summer when Horizon Organic Dairy Inc., of Boulder, Colo., opened an organic dairy just outside of Kennedyville. It is looking for local sources of organic alfalfa, barley and corn.

"It is always better when farmers have more than one buyer for their crops," Hall said, "they get a better price."

Clarkson said the company's processing center would draw from farms within a 150- to 200-mile radius.

It would need a minimum of 600,000 bushels of corn and 400,000 bushels of soybeans a year to operate efficiently. Such production would require about 15,000 acres of land devoted to organic crops.

The plant could process up to 6 million bushels of grain a year.

Hall said the university is in the process of setting up demonstration farms in Kent County to teach farmers how to grow organically.

He said organic farming greatly reduces a farmer's costs for chemical herbicides and pesticides but increases labor expenses.

"Using chemicals, a farmer can pass through a field once and control weeds for the entire year," said Hall.

"Under the organic system, we're talking about four passes, and they are more time-consuming." Instead of using chemicals to kill the weeds, a cultivator digs the weeds out by the root to be dried in the sun.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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