June 28, 2000 | By: Haven Miller

Whether you're an established produce farmer or one who is just starting, understanding the opportunities and requirements of markets is critical to your success. This means finding out about wholesale and retail marketing channels in your area.

"Direct marketing methods are extremely important for Kentucky farmers and shouldn't be neglected," said Tim Woods, Extension marketing specialist in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "For example, there are more than 70 community farmers markets around the state ranging from seven or eight producers all the way up to 35 or 40 producers involved."

Other direct sales methods include roadside stands, and sales to restaurants and stores. Woods said about 70 percent of the state's produce sales are generated through some kind of direct sales.

For farmers just getting started, direct sales is particularly appealing because it allows them to grow on a smaller scale and to get a feel for what is involved.

For growers operating on a larger scale, cooperatives offer an excellent wholesale distribution avenue, helping farmers take advantage of opportunities in more distant markets.

"Co-ops receive large volumes of produce, grade it, and pack it. Many have a marketing agent who shops around and finds the best deal at the time, and returns that income back to the member growers," Woods said. "By helping find buyers the cooperative frees the farmer up to concentrate more on the production side."

Some cooperatives this season are expanding into crops they haven't handled before such as eggplant, green beans, and vine-ripened stake tomatoes, according to Woods. A new cooperative in western Kentucky is focusing on sweet corn along with other crops. And one co-op is beginning to explore the potential of processing for added value.

"Market-savvy producers often mix their marketing methods," Woods said. "If producers happen to be in a good location near a highway, in addition to their wholesaling they may also have some on-farm retailing such as a roadside stand or selling a certain percentage of their sweet corn through local retail markets."

Additional produce is being sold this year in moderate volume through auctions. A variety of fruits and vegetables is sold to restaurants and independent grocers through auctions.

Woods said staying in touch with representatives of the various kinds of marketing opportunities will improve a grower's ability to optimize profits. He also recommended attending the annual meeting of the Kentucky Vegetable Growers held each January.


Tim Woods, (859) 257-7270