Morgan co-op serves farmers with advice, supplies

By Michael Wetzel

For the Enquirer

Helping row crop farmers choose the best defense to fight weeds and insects on their farms and supplying the proper bulk feed to livestock producers are some of the services offered by the Morgan County Farmers Co-Op.

“If they have a weed, bug or nutrient deficiency, we’ll sit down with them and identify what weeds they have and recommend how to fight it,” said location manager Jason Pealor.

“There a lot of factors that come into play on what the issue is. Where is the farm? Which acres need to be sprayed? What are they planning to grow? We’ll set that up for them. We want to gain their trust and their business. We’ve got experienced people to meet them. It’s a free service.”

The co-op plays a role in Morgan County’s agriculture sector, in which revenue from cattle and chicken production dominate.

Pealor, 24, of Danville, expects cattle feed to be the biggest item sold in February and March.

“We sell a lot of bag and bulk feed,” he said. “We have a lot of small livestock customers that have five, 10, 20 head of cattle. We’ve got row crop farmers who have lots of acres, too.”

He said the co-op’s main customer base is small-acre livestock farmers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest figures, 89% of Morgan’s agriculture sales come from livestock, poultry and products. The other 11% comes from crops. Thirty-five percent of farmland in the county is devoted to pastureland with 34% tied up as cropland and 31% with woodland and other uses. The USDA lists more than 4 million broilers and meat-type chickens as the top livestock, followed by 29,688 cattle and calves.

Pealor said the Alabama Farmers Cooperative, based in Decatur, serves more than 60 co-ops across the state. “Sometimes I reach out to them for help and advice,” he said. He said the state office has a network of experts who can help

Pealor said he is seeing new farmers come into his store.

“We’re seeing some younger guys in here,” he said. “And we’re losing more acres. Morgan County is gaining more houses than it is farms. Urban development is stretching farther out. But we are seeing a good amount of young people who are interested in farming and entering the industry.”

He said the urbanization “is no danger (to producers) at this moment.”

Co-op Office Manager Joy Catheryn Thompson said the residential development has brought new customers.

“We have developers and contractors coming in now for our erosion control products,” she said. “They’re wanting straw matts, silk fence and new grass seeds.”

The co-op is seeing more homeowners drop in, too.

“We have general stuff for homeowners, too,” Pealor said. “We deliver mulch, pine straw, wheat straw and hay for homeowners.”

Pealor said the county co-op is member of the Alabama Farmers Co-Op. “Each cooperative is on its own,” he said. “We have a board of directors that makes the decisions for us. We’re customer owned. If you are a member with us, you are a shareholder. Depending on the amount of business you as a customer do with us, we will pay a patronage check back to you.”

He said patronage checks range from about $20 to thousands of dollars.

“The more business you do with us, the bigger your check,” Pealor said. “And it depends on our earnings that year. The Alabama Co-Op sends us patronage checks, and we send members checks.”

Danville’s Billy Parker, a regular customer, said the co-op’s large selection of supplies, feed and seed keeps him coming back.

“I’ve got a little farm and do a lot of gardening and a lot of canning,” said Parker, 79. “My daughter grows chickens, about 30 or 40 chickens, and sells eggs. I’m in here today to buy feed for those chickens.”

He said he grows tomatoes, corn, squash and peppers on about 1 acre. “The co-op has what I need. I buy fertilizer, seed. I’ve bought some gravel and mulch here in the past. They have a good supply of Bonnie plants.”

The Morgan Co-op store is at 1935 U.S. 31 N. in Hartselle.

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