June 7, 2006 | By: Aimee Nielson

Results from a recently completed planting intentions survey of fruit and vegetable producers indicate vegetable production will be about 8,100 acres in 2006. That’s up nearly 20 percent from last year. However, fruit production is expected to be at around 2,500 acres, which is down 18 percent from 2005.

“The results may be surprising to some,” said Tim Woods, agricultural economist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture New Crop Opportunities Center. “Two of Kentucky’s vegetable cooperatives chose to close their doors this year citing poor weather and weak markets. While struggles associated with these markets have captured a lot of media attention, other market channels have quietly but steadily expanded.”

Sweet corn and pumpkins showed the largest increases and many other high-value crops are being produced in fewer amounts, Woods added.

Farmers’ markets, in particular, have become more popular selling points for producers. Woods said 63 percent of farmers surveyed sold at least some produce at farmers’ markets in 2005 as compared to 47 percent in 2002. An increase in the number of markets attributed to the increase as did the ease of participation for farmers wanting to sell on a small scale.

Other marketing channels like produce auctions and direct-to-restaurant sales are growing as well. The four produce auctions in Fairview, Lincoln County, Bath County and Mason County had more than 300 producers last year and projections call for expansion in these markets again this year.

“The restaurant sales have been buoyed by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture Restaurant Rewards program,” Woods said. “Only 5 percent of farmers sold to restaurants in 2002, but that grew to 17 percent in 2005 and will certainly expand again this year. Look for locally grown produce featured in your local restaurants soon.”

Woods noted that the decline in fruit activity is largely due to a steep decline in apple acreage.

“Kentucky is not a big apple-producing state,” he said. “We had about 1,800 acres last year. Farmers are projecting to have only about half of that acreage available in 2006. A number of smaller orchards have closed, finding it hard to profitably operate.”

Other fruit products are expected to expand this year, especially blackberries and blueberries. Grape acreage, primarily wine grapes, is expected to expand as well. Many new plantings that were put in the ground within the past few years will now become bearing acreage, Woods added.

“Overall, the produce industry in Kentucky seems fairly healthy,” Woods said. “Growth in direct marketing, auctions and other wholesale markets has created optimism among farmers for 2006.”

A detailed report of the planting intentions survey and information about specific markets for fruit and vegetable markets is available at the UK College of Agriculture’s New Crop Opportunities Center Web site.


Tim Woods 859-257-7270