- Paris Flash
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As a follow up to the well attended Agricultural Entrepreneurs Forum back in late April, the Red River Region Business Incubator (R3bi) held a roundtable meeting on Tuesday to continue to explore potential ag related business opportunities for the Paris Area.
The purpose of the meeting was to further discuss the merits of a number of ideas put forth at the initial meeting. The concepts evaluated ranged from micro to industrial in size and included, organic produce production, pecan production, bio fuel pellet manufacturing and soy bean processing.
On the micro level, organic/sustainable farming was discussed. According to Evelyn Walker of Weybap Farm, a farm of “Fresh, Local, Sustainable Produce”, the demand locally for fresh, organic produce significantly exceeds supply. “I sell a variety of produce at the farmers market every Saturday, and every Saturday I sell out of every single thing I bring by 11am.” What Walker wants is more people selling fresh produce. “If people keep coming to the farmers market but there’s nothing left to buy, they quit coming. We need more people selling products.”
Walker wants to clear up the misconception that sustainable produce grown using organic methods is more expensive. “Yes potatoes and beans are cheaper at WalMart, but everything else you can buy just as cheap and it is wonderful, fresh, locally grown produce.”
This spawned a discussion of the need for a commercial kitchen available to local entrepreneurs. “There are plenty of people who would love to have access to a commercial kitchen to make their own jellies and jams [to name few], but no individual could afford one.”
The concept of a cooperative farming effort with access to a commercial kitchen appears viable. “We have the space for a commercial kitchen with the potential for sponsors to put the money together to fund it,” said Fred Green, the moderator and director of R3bi, “but it means that people need to come forward and express interest in using it.”
Pecans, a native tree to the state and this particular region was another topic evaluated. The price for pecans has run up five fold because of China’s interest in the nut and the world’s demand for protein. Nonetheless, according to James Dorman who has explored this issue extensively for Paris Pecan Company, there is very little opportunity for small acreage. A hundred acres of commercially managed pecan trees is a breakeven, and since the pecans are being exported in the shell, there are very few support businesses associated with this crop.
Bio fuel production was a hot topic at the roundtable with several participants exploring this opportunity prior to the meeting. “I am here because we are exploring bio fuel production and we are looking for input,” said Sheila Thompson who recently relocated here from Arizona. Already Paris Economic Development Corp is currently working with a company seeking to produce energy for its own consumption through bio mass pellets. It appears that as fossil fuel prices rise pressure will continue to mount to develop sustainable sources of fuel. Currently, of course, coal is the predominant form of electricity generation. The Obama Administration however is pushing to have some amount of bio fuels mixed in with coal. Grass and wood chips are both good sources of fuel that can be converted to pellet form and are clean burning.
The largest opportunity for this area is the potential development of a soybean processing facility. This has been explored by local millers and grain elevators for a number of years; however, it has not been economically viable. A 57- page study has recently been submitted to the PEDC and R3bi stating that the time may be right to reevaluate this opportunity. Indeed with bean prices at record highs, it may be a good time to look at it. To be able to roast soybeans locally would save the farmer $.50-60 per bushel. Further with our new commercial egg farm and commercial dairy, the local demand for soybean meal could be a win-win for producers and consumers. The other byproduct of soybean crushing is bean oil and that remains the missing piece of the puzzle. However it also represents an opportunity. If R3bi and the PEDC could find the right business, our locally produced bean oil could be an incentive for an oil dependent business to come to Paris.
A committee chaired by Greg Wilson is being formed to evaluate the study and further explore this opportunity.
The Agricultural Entrepreneurs Forum will meet again in September to explore the merits of a number of other opportunities put forth at the April meeting. It is open to the public and anyone wishing to attend can contact Fred Green for more information email@example.com