Featured Projects

Southeast Georgia RDA– building expansion

MBG Blueberries

MBG Blueberries

On June 1, 2007, OneGeorgia awarded an Equity loan of $488,541 to the Southeast Georgia Regional Development Authority to support the expansion of the Michigan Blueberry Growers processing facility in Alma. The Equity loan was used for building construction of a pre-cooler building, dry storage room and office space. The expansion will provide much needed cooling space to support the continued growth of blueberries in Georgia.

In 1983, a member-owned blueberry marketing cooperative, founded in 1936 and known as Michigan Blueberry Growers Association, expanded into South Georgia. Now operating as MBG Marketing-The Blueberry People, the cooperative has approximately 300 member-growers in multiple states, with one third of those from an 18-county footprint in Southeast Georgia, representing over 2,500 acres of blueberry production. Along with those 100 members, another 65 local Georgia blueberry producers, the majority of whom are former tobacco growers, are marketing with MBG in 2009, anticipating a membership opportunity next year.

MBG’s Georgia production base has increased dramatically since that first crop in 1983. Georgia members have invested more than $1.5 million in the co-op, helping to finance two major facility developments in the heart of Southeast Georgia. In partnership with the City of Alma, the Southeast Georgia Regional Development Center (RDC), and of course the Southeast Georgia Regional Development Authority (SEGaRDA), the co-op’s Georgia members now have a state-of-the-art fresh blueberry receiving, cooling, storage, and distribution center. After the harvest of 2006, MBG realized it had already outgrown the plant that was built just ten years before. Anticipating increased production from within its membership, and expecting others to shift their agricultural resources to the fastest growing healthy food item in the grocery aisle, the co-op began developing plans for a facility expansion. With local authorities assisting, MBG members took their blueberry success story to the local RDC and SEGaRDA. Fortunately, both were there to help: $200,000 in equipment financing was provided by RDC, and the OneGeorgia Authority Board approved equity loan funds to SEGaRDA for a nearly $500,000 building loan to MBG. Together with local funding, MBG constructed a new facility for a total project cost of $800,000, creating refrigerated storage of 20,000 square feet with over 800 pallet spaces, 4 forced air pre-cooling chambers and dry storage of 12,000 square feet – making this a long-lasting investment in the local community.

Based on estimates at the start of the project, MBG thought its fresh blueberry production would double in 4 years and increase on-farm and co-op facility employment by 61% during the same timeframe. After a devastating Easter freeze in 2007 where the state lost more than 50% of its blueberry crop and MBG’s growers about 70%, some felt those goals would not be achieved. In 2008, blessed with excellent harvest conditions, the crop came back strong with post-season reports from 144 farms indicating a 72% increase in production after only two years along with a corresponding 45% increase in FTE’s. They are well on their way to surpassing the 4-year projections made! Georgia’s annual blueberry production of just 21.5 million pounds in 2006 may reach an excess of 35 million pounds this 2009 season.

MBG Marketing-The Blueberry People, representing over 50% of the state’s production, is now planning yet another Alma expansion. Having recently secured adjacent real estate to nearly double its property holdings, MBG will begin another round of construction after the 2010 harvest. This new project is anticipated to require an additional investment exceeding one-half million dollars, creating additional local construction opportunity as well as long-term employment growth.

Recent retail data indicates that, for the first time ever, berries – with blueberries leading the pack, have topped all other fruits in grocery dollar value in the most recent 52-week period. The Georgia members of MBG Marketing-The Blueberry People are excited to be bringing these consumer shopping dollars home to their local Georgia farms and communities.

Tagged: agriculture, bacon county, alma, equity, onegeorgia, blueberries, mbg