October 15, 1999 | By: Mark Eclov
Lexington, KY

Interested in adding vegetable crops to your farm operation? Practice the mantra "markets, markets and markets."

That simple sounding, yet complex message is regularly uttered by Tim Woods, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Extension vegetable marketing specialist. Most of the time it's directed to farmers who currently grow tobacco and are taking a closer look at commercial vegetable production as a way to increase farm income.

"State surveys show that many opportunities exist for expanding fresh vegetable production in Kentucky, " said Woods. "But the primary difference between vegetable and tobacco enterprises is how the crops are marketed and this can become a major stumbling block for many would-be vegetable growers."

"There are some heartbreaking stories out there of producers who were extremely successful at raising a big healthy vegetable crop," said Brent Rowell, Extension Vegetable specialist in the UK College of Agriculture.

"Unfortunately, they never bothered to determine where, to whom, and at what price their products would be sold. Some of those crops rotted in the field," added Rowell.

Both specialists emphasized good marketing starts with a careful study of what the customer needs and works backward from there to a good production strategy. There are many useful best management practices that can then be implemented to produce a marketable product.

"You need to answer some basic questions like do you have adequate financing to grow a certain crop and do you have the time to market your produce," said Woods. "You also must know if you can you generate the amount of crop required, where are there existing markets and facilities in your area and can you handle the details related to marketing strategy."

"We have found that successful vegetable producers must commit their time and money to do it right the first time," added Rowell. "Many vegetable crops require new trans-planters, drip-irrigation systems, and high-pressure spraying equipment."

Some crops like strawberries and tomatoes require a lot of attention at specific times in the production cycle.

"You don't walk away from a tomato crop that is ready for harvest," warned Rowell. "You need to know who is going to do the work... You, your family, or hired help? For example an acre of tomatoes requires 900 hours of labor, most of which is harvest labor."

"Most customers, both direct and wholesale, are looking for a uniformly high quality of supply from producers. This requires considerable attention to production, harvesting, packing, grading and distribution, " said Woods.

"The high perishability of these products makes the development of management and marketing skills an essential ingredient for success," said Woods.

Most vegetable crops grown for the wholesale market require cold storage systems or cleaning and packing equipment. A producer must have access to the necessary equipment. In some cases a marketing cooperative group of producers may be willing to share these costs.

Fortunately, there is a sizeable base of information to help any Kentucky producers formulate a successful marketing plan. A growing number of Cooperative Extension Service agents know the production and marketing opportunities in their counties. They have access to information on marketing strategy and on how to successfully grow a variety of vegetables under Kentucky's climate conditions.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the Kentucky Farm Bureau, Kentucky Vegetable Growers Association and the Commodity Growers Cooperative offer a fast growing list of promotional services and training opportunities to help vegetable growers succeed.

The Cooperative Extension Service has a publication available through county offices entitled "Marketing Options for Commercial Vegetable Growers" (ID-134) to help start the market review process.



Writer: Mark Eclov (606) 257-7223
Brent Rowell (606) - 257-3374
Tim Woods (606) - 257-7270