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Metter cricket farm thrives
McCorkles will produce 40 million crickets for April sale
021607 CRICKETS 1 web
Olliff "Mac" McElveen checks on the status of hatchling crickets at B.J.'s Sports Store in Metter. The crickets are raised for fishing bait in a dark, climate-controlled environment. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Cricket farm

Cricket farm thrives in Metter

            Located in the heart of downtown Metter, behind the Pineland State Bank, is one of the largest cricket farms in southeast Georgia. Slated to produce more than 40 million crickets in the next four months, McCorkle's Cricket Farm provides crickets, other live bait, and wholesale tackle to over 500 retail outlets in Georgia and South Carolina.

            Founded over 50 years ago, McCorkle's is housed in a 26,000-square-foot facility that includes nine rooms dedicated to the farming of crickets. In addition to the cricket farm, McCorkle's operates a substantial wholesale tackle operation and the Flip-R lure manufacturing company. Housed on the front corner of the building is a separately run retail sporting goods operation, B.J.'s Sports Store.

            Metter resident, Olliff McElveen, is McCorkle's CEO.  McElveen, or Mac as he is known to most, began working for McCorkle's 45 years ago when the operation was owned by John Stacy McCorkle and his brother-in-law, Robert A. Calhoun, Jr. McElveen said he bought the company in the mid eighties.

            "I had worked here for 25 years and Mr. McCorkle gave me the opportunity to purchase it," McElveen said. "I have been running the company ever since. The retail operation was added as a separate entity in 1994."

            McElveen said he is amazed at how many people don't know that the cricket operation is there.

            "We had a small fire two years ago and I think most people assumed we quit raising crickets," McElveen said. "We are going strong and hopefully with good weather and good water we will have a wonderful season."

            McElveen said the demand for crickets is seasonal beginning in March and ending around July 4.

            "We will ship out 99 percent of crickets during that period of time," he said. "After that, people either don't go fishing as much or choose another type of bait. We run our delivery trucks up to six days a week during peak season."

            In addition to the crickets, worms, and small bait fish that McCorkle sells to its retail customers, the company also supplies tackle to them as well.

            J. J. Wiggins, a spokesperson for Newton's Sports Shop in Statesboro, said the customer service provided by McElveen's is second to none.

            "We have been bait and tackle from Mac (McElveen) since my dad bought Newton's in 1980," Wiggins said. "We get everything that we order in a timely manner and if they don't have it, they get it for us very quickly. It really helps to have someone local."

            Betty McCorkle Tucker, widow of J.S. McCorkle, said McCorkle's is the second oldest cricket farm in the United States.

            "To my knowledge, the first cricket farm ever established was in Glennville, Ga.," Tucker said. "We were the second. People would ask my husband what he did for a living, and he would tell them he was a cricket farmer. We used to get some pretty strange looks."

            Tucker said McCorkle and Calhoun started selling tackle in addition to the crickets in the mid 1960's.

            "They were already selling bait all over the southeast, it just seemed reasonable to sell tackle as well," she said. "Like the crickets, that business started out very small, and ended up being pretty big. After that they started manufacturing some of their own tackle. My husband even ended up writing a book on cricket farming."

            Martha Landrum, an employee of B.J.'s, used to work for the cricket farm. She said the personalities in both companies have played a major part in their success.

            "Mac is well known throughout this area for the business that he does," Landrum said. "He and everyone else that works for both McCorkle's and B.J.'s have  great personalities. It is fun to be around them."

            McElveen said during the peak season, trucks are loaded before dawn five mornings a week with crickets and tackle making deliveries across Georgia and South Carolina.

            "We sell three types of bait fish, seven types of worms, and crickets along with the tackle," McElveen said. "Even though we don't sell very many crickets at all from August through February, we have to keep growing them so the supply will be there when peak season comes."

            "Hopefully this year, it will be a great season," he said. "It all depends on the weather and the water."