July 6, 2000 | By: Laura Skillman
OWENSBORO, Ky.

Cucumbers and other early summer produce are already moving through the packing lines at the West Kentucky Growers Cooperative in Stanley and soon the facility will be adding 1,000 acres of sweet corn to the line.

In its first year, the cooperative is the work of a group of farmers from Daviess, McLean, Henderson, Ohio and other surrounding counties who were looking for a means of supplementing their incomes in the wake of poor grain prices and severe cuts in tobacco production.

For co-op president Rick Kamuf, it is a venture that began in 1989 when farmers in the region first began growing tomatoes for the fresh market. But it took tobacco cuts and finding the right markets for farmers to decide to move forward with the co-op in 2000.

"We kept hearing in the woods that tobacco was in trouble and we started looking at avenues to venture into and we slowly moved into those directions," he said.

The cooperative did its homework before jumping into any ventures. First, they found a crop large enough to sustain the facility, then hired a marketer and used the expertise of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

Kamuf said they used the university to aid in finding other interested growers, to learn the proper procedures to set up a cooperative and to put together a budget.

"And we followed those guidelines," he said. "There's a lot of people out here doing a lot of work and having fun doing it.

Before forming the cooperative, a group of farmers went to Florida to learn more about the business. Accompanying the farmers was Annette Meyer, Daviess County Extension Agent for Horticulture. Meyer helped connect the farmers with operations in Florida through the extension service there.

"She's worked relentlessly," Kamuf said.

With the cooperative established, specialists from the UK Lexington campus and county extension agents are working with farmers to get them the necessary information in growing new crops.

Meyer said the farmers have worked hard to ensure the cooperative's success.

"To the credit of the cooperators and farmers, they searched first for the marketer, then the expertise and grant writing as well," she said. "They've put many different pieces together that in the past may not have all been there."

Farmers have put up their own financial stake with some backing equipment loans and paying membership fees. The facility being used was built several years ago by the J.C. Ellis Estate and J.C. Ellis III has leased it to the cooperative for a $1 for this season with an option for another year at the same rate as well as an option to purchase the facility. The facility is described as state of the art.

The cooperative received a $1,500 grant from the Commodity Growers Cooperative and $500 from the Owensboro-Daviess County Chamber of Commerce to finance the Florida trip. They have also received a $100,000 grant from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and are working with the Southern States Foundation to secure another $400,000 in grants and low interest loans.

Daviess County farmer Bernard Krampe is growing sweet corn and eggplant for the cooperative. This is his first venture into vegetable production.

"I'm trying to find something to take the place of tobacco," he said. "Three years ago I had 37,000 pounds of tobacco, this year 11,000. It won't take tobacco's place but it is something we can do."

Kamuf agreed saying the vegetables allow him and other tobacco farmers to utilize their seasonal help more effectively.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm a tobacco farmer and will be until I die or someone takes it away from me," he said. "But we are a diversified people."

Dr. C. Oran Little, Dean of the UK College of Agriculture, attended the cooperative's grand opening June 28 and praised it for the partnerships it has used from extension to state government to private business and individuals.

"These are the kinds of approaches we are going to have to do more and more as we look to the future of Kentucky," he said.

Contact: 

Annette Meyer, (270) 685-8480