Farmers take wait and see stance

Published 12:37 am Sunday, October 26, 2008

By By MaryClaire Foster
The growth of sugar cane in Atmore could bring a huge economic boom to the area.
The key word is could and area farmers and agriculture experts use it frequently when talking about the possibility of large scale sugar cane productions in the area.
One of the ways Gov. Bob Riley convinced Amyris Biotechnologies CEO John Melo to consider Alabama for an alternative fuel test site was telling him sugar cane was previously grown in Alabama.
Dr. Bob Goodman, extension economist, said Atmore was chosen as the test site because of the availability of land, but was not originally considered.
Goodman said there was a large sugar cane production at the prison farm in the first half of the 20th century, but after being subsidized by the government, production of sugar cane halted.
The sugar cane test site, located across from Holman Prison, is currently at 100 acres and according to Eric Hall, the farmer in charge of the land, if all goes well, that 100 acres will be turned into 1,000 the next year.
Goodman said his top priority with this venture is to look out for the farmers and see if this would be profitable for them.
“We want to see if this works or not, and if it does how much money can be made (by the farmers) and if not we want to make sure resources aren’t wasted,” he said.
Hall said that sugar cane will be more costly in the short term but will have better pay offs in the long term.
Local farmer Jerry Davis said he is excited about the possible opportunity and compares it to the introduction of the peanut crop to the area.
The crop was planted in September and will be harvested in August.
Goodman said that if this proves to be a good opportunity for farmers there are still some issues with government programs and with tillage practices, but he does not foresee anything that would seriously hamper the production.
Davis agreed.
Like Goodman, Hall said there is still much to be considered before any steps are made towards investing.
Hall said he really appreciates the Governor’s stance no matter what the outcome.

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