LU buys new truck with grant money

Using money from a U.S. Agriculture Department Rural Business Enterprise grant, Lincoln University recently bought a refrigerated truck and turned over that vehicle this week to the Sikeston-based Missouri Agricultural Products Cooperative (MAPC).

Associate Professor Emmanuel Ajuzie, Ph.D. — an agriculture economist with LU’s Cooperative Extension and Research program — said “small producers of fruits and vegetables can make a lot of money by joining together and being able to access the larger markets.”

His research dating back to 2000 “found that someone who is growing fruits and vegetables on five acres of land makes more profit than somebody who is doing row crops on 125 acres,” he said Wednesday. “With row crops, you have the soil depletion. You have spraying of all those things, and that also tends to deplete the soil.

“But the fruits and vegetables you can continue growing year-in and year-out.”

But, to make that profit, that farmer must be able “to penetrate larger markets — and that’s where the profit is, selling to places like Walmart, Schnucks and others,” Ajuzie said. “When they get together and form a cooperative, individuals produce and they collect their products, and they have enough volume to be then able to penetrate those larger markets.”

That’s why Ajuzie and the LU Extension program helped incorporate the MAPC four years ago, and why the refrigerated truck was delivered to the cooperative this week.

While the large stores won’t come to a small farmer’s place to pick up a small load, the refrigerated truck — still not as large as an 18-wheeler — can be loaded at the cooperative’s warehouse and take the products to the stores.

“The refrigerated truck will help the shelf life of the produce when they reach the store,” Ajuzie explained. “If you don’t put them in a refrigerated truck and pack them together like that, by the time they get to the store where you’re going to sell them, they begin to rot.”

He helped create a similar cooperative in the Bootheel in 1998, and it grew from eight farmers to 41 by 2000.

“They were producing fruits and vegetables right and left, and they were making a lot of money together,” Ajuzie said. “And they were selling everything they produced to Schnucks.”

By that time, Ajuzie had left LU, and was not involved with that cooperative as the members began fighting among themselves over who earned what because of the fluctuating prices for their produce.

After returning to Lincoln in 2007, he helped form the new, MAPC cooperative.

But, because of that earlier experience, Ajuzie said Wednesday he doesn’t consider the delivery of the refrigerated truck to the cooperative to be a “pilot” program — although he understands that others might.

He’s hoping that success in the Bootheel will help the MAPC “to expand to other parts of Missouri,” including Mid-Missouri.

“There will be one in Fulton,” he predicted. “We hope to take it across Missouri.”

Although many people think of Lincoln as a Mid-Missouri regional school, Ajuzie and others regularly note that LU has a statewide mission and was granted federal land-grant status in 1890, along with a number of other historically black colleges and universities.

Lincoln’s agriculture extension and research programs don’t compete with the University of Missouri’s programs, Ajuzie said.

MU and a number of other schools around the country were granted federal land grant status in 1862.

“They are looking at the large operations, at commercial farms,” he said of the MU programs. “The Lincoln University mission — especially when it comes to agriculture — is to serve the, call it, underserved farmers.

“Any farmer who is small — be it black, white, blue or whatever — if you have only about five acres, you are a small, disadvantaged farmer.”

The cooperative concept helps the small farmers compete as a group with larger, corporate farms, he said.

And, as the cooperative program expands, Ajuzie doesn’t think it will need new refrigerated trucks for every part of the state.

“If this starts working well, we will have more producers joining these cooperatives,” he said. “The more who join, you don’t need to have your own refrigerated truck — because the markets will be coming with their own refrigerated trucks.”

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