Cooperative farms in South Carolina have become a major way for farmers to make ends meet in the wake of the severe drought.
As the drought continues to worsen, many farmers are finding themselves forced to move their businesses to neighboring states in order to stay afloat.
“We’ve been having trouble getting a lot of people to come back,” said Brian Moseley, who runs a cooperative in the state.
“The drought has really hit us hard.”
Cooperative farms have been growing in South Dakotas for years, and the trend has only increased in recent years.
“In the past couple of years, it’s been like a mini boom,” said Mosely, who farms at his family’s farm in Fayetteville, South Carolina.
“People are getting interested in cooperatives, and it’s definitely a trend that’s been growing.”
South Dakots are a big part of the cooperative movement, with nearly 80 percent of the state’s farms producing some kind of produce.
Farmers typically pay a fee to the state in exchange for a share of the produce produced.
Many farms, including Moseleys, also have cooperative insurance that pays out when crops fail.
But unlike many cooperatives around the country, these policies are not tied to specific farm types.
Instead, farmers are responsible for the production of their own produce.
They are free to sell excess produce at market price to help meet their costs.
And in the case of Moselly, a former factory worker who is a farmer, that includes selling excess produce to the cooperatives.
Mosellys co-op, Farm Fresh Produce, is part of a group of cooperatives that are expanding across South Dakota, where farmers are struggling to feed their families.
“There are farmers out there who are working their ass off to feed themselves and their families,” Moselyn said.
“They’re working very hard, and we’re just looking for a way to help them.”
Moseyles farm is just one of dozens of cooperative farms across South Dakotes farm belt, which includes the towns of Fayette and Southfield.
Many of the smaller farms, which are typically located in rural areas, are struggling financially, and have been forced to leave their families behind in order for them to survive.
But Moselynn said that with the help of the South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service (SCES), the cooperatively owned farms in his area are thriving.
The service works with the farmers to develop a strategy for growing cooperatives to help the farmers keep their businesses in the South Dakoteas.
“When we started, we were going to do all the marketing and all the branding and all that,” Mearys co owner, Kyle Fries, said.
“[We] had no marketing.
We had no sales staff.
We didn’t have anyone to speak to.”
In order to keep farmers from losing money, Mosealy has put together a program called Farm Fresh, where he has partnered with a local farmer to sell surplus produce at the farmers market and to sell his produce to a neighboring cooperative.
The program helps the farmers in the region to grow profits, and is aimed at helping them keep their operations afloat while the drought gets worse.
“With Farm Fresh we’re able to buy the produce, we’re going to sell it to other farmers in South Dakota and we can sell it again, so the cost of that is less than it would be if we didn’t do it,” Fries said.
With Farm Fresh the farmers can sell excess crop at farmers markets, where they are able to sell their surplus produce to others in the cooperative.
But the cooperates plan to expand the program to other rural areas of the country in order help other farmers survive.
MOSELEY HAS A MISSION FOR THE COOPERATIVES While the South Daks cooperatives are growing, Mearley has a larger mission in mind.
“I don’t know that I can tell you exactly how many cooperats we have in the country,” he said.
But he has been working hard to help build them.
“If I had a billion dollars and the country was gone, I would definitely have a mission to see to it that I have a cooperative,” he added.
“Because I think that we need to make the whole country cooperative again.
And I’m sure we all want to be able to make it that way.”
Follow Jennifer Lee on Twitter at @JenniferLeeDC.