December 23, 2002 | By: Aimee D. Heald
LOUISVILLE, Ky.

Even as obesity rates rise and Americans consume more fast food than ever before, the number of people eating fruits and vegetables also is rising.

"In terms of per capita consumption of fruit and vegetable products in the United States, consumption has expanded about 10 percent in the last 10 years," University of Kentucky Agribusiness and Horticulture Marketing Specialist Tim Woods said. "Most of the production of fresh fruit and vegetables is in states like California, Texas, and Florida. Kentucky is not a huge competitor right now, but we have had a lot of interest in this as an enterprise in recent years."

Woods said the fruit and vegetable sector delivered around $15 million in cash receipts to Kentucky farmers in 2002. Vegetable production expanded largely due to the efforts of four major cooperatives around the state, which focus on sweet corn, bell peppers, tomatoes, cantaloupe, pumpkins and cabbage.

"A recent UK survey shows that most growers in the state are still heavily relying on direct marketing of their products at places like farmer's markets," Woods said. "We also have a lot of our farmers wanting to sell produce in significant volumes and therefore are turning to market through the produce cooperatives."

Woods emphasized that marketing is, and will remain, the key factor in Kentucky's fruit and vegetable industry's success.

"The four major co-ops are pointing ahead to further expansion as they pursue further marketing opportunities," he said. "They've more than doubled in sales from just a couple years ago and projections are pointing to sales doubling again in the next couple of years. It's been a bumpy road but we have made some progress."

In western Kentucky, growers have been innovative in sweet corn marketing. They shuck the ears, cut off the ends and package four together for supermarkets and retail stores. An alliance with producers in Florida and Georgia allows the corn to be ready to market year around. "These kinds of models where we have alliances with other regions show some real promise for a lot of different crops," Woods said.

New marketing channels have been developed for Kentucky produce with assistance from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. "A lot of growers have taken advantage of the USDA Farm-to-School program over the last year," Woods noted.

Fruit expanded 34 percent in grapes, 27 percent for blackberries and 53 percent for other berries. Still other growers are expanding their operations thanks to Phase I funds which have helped them put better packing, grading and processing equipment in place for cantaloupe, sweet corn, peppers and cider apples. 

Woods said some growers were discouraged by early production and marketing challenges of 2002, but more are looking to expand in 2003. The survey showed that most vegetable and fruit growers also grow tobacco and the combination has served them well in the transition to smaller tobacco bases.

"As direct and wholesale markets are established and as producers work out technical aspects of commercial production, this sector will continue to expand and be an important farm enterprise alternative," he said. "Marketing alliances with producers outside Kentucky will continue to be an important strategy to gain entry into competitive wholesale markets."

Contact: 

Tim Woods  859-257-7270