NEW MADRID - Southeast Missouri residents are being asked to invest in the future of farming.
A series of meetings to encourage local investment in a soybean processing plant begin Thursday and organizers hope to sell more than a million dollars in stock over the next several weeks.
Ray Fowler of rural New Madrid County is promoting the Great River Soy/Sun Processing Plant as an opportunity for area farmers to have another outlet for their soybeans and add value to their crops. For others, it is the chance to invest in the area, bringing new jobs and an additional $20 million to the local economy, Fowler said.
Fowler has worked on the project for months and described it as a learning process for himself and the others involved. "For legal reasons we have had to stop and start over but we are finally pretty much to the point where we can tell people what we plan to do."
Plans call for construction of the plant along the north city limits of Lilbourn, where a former compress once stood and the city's mural is located. Lilbourn agreed to donate the 14-acre site to the project and seek grants to improve the property.
Already the community has received a $328,800 for water and sewer system improvements to the site, said Lilbourn Mayor Frank Ash. A second grant is being sought for a railroad switch and extension.
"They are going to help us, so we will help them," said Ash about the grants and donation.
Describing the project as important to Lilbourn and its residents, Ash noted it would bring initially 25 to 32 jobs to a town in need of another employer. "And it will be here where it can eventually grow to be even bigger," he said. "Plus trucks will be coming here and rail cars. There will be other benefits too."
The mill will purchase and process three million bushels of soybeans annually, operating 24 hours a day, six days a week.
According to Fowler the mill will be capable of processing 250 tons of soymeal daily along with 8,470 pounds of soy oil. The meal will be sold for livestock and poultry feed while the soy oil will be further refined and sold to consumers for cooking oil.
A market is already lined up for the oil, organizers stated, and they are developing contacts for the sale of the processed meal.
The plant will use an environmentally-friendly process to produce the meal and oil. Fowler explained the dry-extrusion expeller technology uses heat and friction to separate the meal from the oil, rather than a chemical process.
"There will be no odor," said Fowler about the process. "There will be no EPA regulatory problems, no special equipment or scrubbers needed. The premium products - soy oil and soymeal - are naturally processed so there is no hazardous or toxic waste to dispose of."
Also he said the meal and oil produced are better than those created through a chemical process. "The high methionine meal is highly desirable for the poultry industry. The meal is highly digestible and sweet and nutritious for animal consumption," Fowler said.
As for the oil, he said it has a longer shelf-life than its competitors and studies suggest it is better at lowering cholesterol. Another plus for the soy oil is that can be directly added to diesel fuel to create biodiesel.
But before these products are available, Fowler and the initial backers must sell the stock to fund the construction.
Anyone can buy the stock however, farmers and others who derive income from agriculture receive a tax credit that can be applied to state taxes for their purchase of stock, Fowler said. Also those who grow soybeans will be asked to make a commitment to sell some of their soybeans to the plant.
While the prices will be competitive, local support is essential Fowler emphasized. "This is a value-added co-op. It will be locally owned, locally controlled and locally managed by an elected board of directors chosen by the stockholder membership.
"But more importantly, there is the pride of ownership and, hopefully, profit sharing and dividends at the end of the year."
If sales go as expected, Fowler said the groundbreaking on the mill should be next September or October. Construction will take about six months with the mill ready for operation in April 2004.
But Fowler doesn't plan on stopping with this plant. A feasibility study is already under way for the construction of a biodiesel plant next door as another way to add value to Southeast Missouri's soybeans.