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Agrimarketing : September 2008
FOCUS ON: VEGETABLE PRODUCERS A $14 BILLION MARKET AND EXPANDING by Kimberly J. Warren, Editorial Director,Great American Publishing U.S. vegetable growers planted 2,025,450 acres of the top 34 vegeta- bles in 2007, the most recent year there is data available from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Potato growers also planted 1,148,600 acres of their crop. Together, vegetable and potato growers’ crops were valued at more than $14 billion. Clearly, the veg- etable segment is an important one to U.S. agriculture — and to agri- marketers. Vegetable growers are feeling the effects of a slow economy, concerns over food safety, tightening labor supplies and changes in weather pat- terns. But that’s not to say there aren’t bright spots. One of those biggest bright spots is the “buy local” move- ment. This is leading growers not only to market themselves differ- ently, but to also think about the crops they plant and how they grow them. Consumers are looking for crops that travel fewer miles to their dinner plate — and for something a little different. Growers are planting more and more specialty and ethnic varieties, especially among melons, peppers and tomatoes. “This has led growers to plant a much more diverse variety and seed companies to promote and market them to growers,” says Dick Lehnert, Ass’t Editor for The Vegetable Growers News (VGN). “Secondly, the growth of the ‘buy local’ movement has greatly helped farmers who sell retail at farm and farmers’ markets. This has vitalized growers in the eastern U.S. and California especially.” Lehnert notes the growth in demand for organic produce has lured many growers into trying organic practices and has given crop protection companies a market for products that are acceptable to organic growers, products that are natural rather than synthetic, within the organic definitions. “Many of these products are equally useful to those who continue to use conventional methods,” he says. Matt Milkovich, VGN Managing Editor, agrees, adding that labor shortages, weather damage and increased input costs are making it tougher for growers to harvest a crop. Add to that concerns about food safety and increased consumer and, potentially, regulatory demand for traceability back to the field, and growers are faced with growing demands for their time, money and other resources. “Anything marketers can offer to help growers deal with those prob- lems — such as mechanization, crop protection advancements and more efficient practices — will catch their interest,” he says. 2007 U.S. VEGETABLE PRODUCTION — SELECTED CROPS Production Crop Sweet Corn (fresh) Fresh Tomatoes Processing Tomatoes Spinach (fresh) Watermelon Potatoes Cantaloupe Source: USDA NASS September 2008 ¦ AgriMarketing 49 Acres 251,300 124,400 319,300 42,700 162,100 1,148,000 88,240 (Thousands/$) 625,539 1,277,559 901,761 204,587 476,209 3,197,746 312,700 POTATOES As the potato industry continues to adjust to changing demo- graphics and societal trends, growers continue to improve their yields while cutting back slightly on acreage. However, value of the U.S. potato crop is up from ten years ago. “The potato industry has faced declining consumption and consistently low prices for the last decade,” reports Scott Christie, Spudman Managing Editor. “Consumption appears to be leveling off and growers have begun working together to con- trol acreage. That has resulted in three years of higher prices with less fluctuation during crop transitions.“ Additionally, irrigation and water use often is listed on VGN’s annual readership survey as a major issue for vegetable growers. “The drought in California, and strict water regulations, will shrink that state’s vegetable crop this year, and perhaps next year. That’s not going to make it easier for them to keep their markets. Plus, the new Great Lakes Compact might make it tougher for Midwest growers to irri- gate their crops.” Growers will con- tinue to seek out tools to help them develop more efficient water man- agement practices. An overall growth in demand for fresh vegetables has been a boon for all growers, and those producers who can offer vegetables earlier and later are finding mar- kets. Much of the benefit has been seen by growers in warmer areas, such as southern and western growing areas. But greenhouses and high tunnels also have helped more northerly producers extend their marketing season. AM
CAMA 2008 Canada