Kentucky Farmers Hope You'll Eat More Fruit and Vegetables
by Randy Weckman
Some Kentuckians are going to fruit and vegetable production in a big way, finding their market niche with quality produce for Kentuckians and for national markets. Their quest has been aided by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund.
Growth in fruit and vegetable production in Kentucky is averaging seven to 10 percent each year, and growth is not expected to hit its ceiling for several years. In 2002, the most recent year for which data are available, horticultural crops (including nursery and greenhouse crops as well as fruits and vegetables) contributed more than $120 million to Kentucky's economy.
"Many tobacco farmers are looking for alternative crops that can be grown on smaller acreage," said Brent Rowell, extension vegetable specialist at the University of Kentucky. "While we have helped many individual tobacco growers diversify into vegetable production over the years, there has been new interest and funding as a result of declines in tobacco production," he said.
Kentuckians are finding their market niche, growing the quality that consumers demand, and making profits.
The Kentucky Horticulture Council, through funding from the Agricultural Development Board, provided money for UK to hire several extension associates to help new producers shorten the learning curve on producing fruits and vegetables in commercial volumes.
These extension associates--six of them strategically located throughout the state--work across county lines to help fruit and vegetable producers improve their production and profits. Nationally, consumer demand for quality fruits and vegetables continues to increase.
KENTUCKY'S LOCATION A PLUS
"Kentucky's strategic location within a day's drive of half of the U.S. population is helping these new growers considerably," said Matt Ernst, extension associate in agricultural economics. "It may help offset the traditional advantage that the big three states (California, Texas, and Florida) have and the low labor costs of Mexico and South America," he said.
Also aiding Kentuckians in their quest to become major players in fruit and vegetable production is the opening of three new marketing cooperatives in the last few years.
(Prior to their appearance, only the Cumberland Farm Products Cooperative in Wayne County served as a Kentucky wholesaler of fruits and vegetables.)
The three new market cooperatives--Central Kentucky Growers in Georgetown,
Green River Produce in Horse Cave, and the Western Kentucky Growers
Cooperative in Owensboro--initiated operations
through grants and loans from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture
and the Kentucky Agriculture Development Board.
INFRASTRUCTURE IS IN PLACE
In addition, the Ag Development Board helped fund the creation of a new infrastructure for cooperative cooling, packing, and grading of fresh produce; allowed the doubling of field and greenhouse plots at UK's three primary research farms; and provided funding for tobacco farmers to diversify their farms.
"Overall, programs funded by the Agricultural Development Board have contributed significantly to the advancement of horticulture," said Dewayne Ingram, chairman of the Department of Horticulture. "Programs now in place could be expected to yield even higher returns in the next five years," he said.
Marketing assistance and promotional programs funded by the Agriculture
Development Board (through funds allocated to the Kentucky Horticulture
Council, which in turn has funded activities of the Kentucky Department
of Agriculture) have contributed directly to improved retail sales
and increased wholesale contracts. Nearly 100 producers have received
matching grants through the advertising and
AG DEVELOPMENT BOARD FUNDS RESEARCH
Mark Robertson (left), McLean County farmer, inspects his broccoli harvest with Nathan Howard, extension associate for vegetable crops.
Ag Development Funds also have been instrumental in funding horticultural research at UK's three experiment station sites: Princeton, Lexington, and Quicksand.
Fruit trials conducted so far include evaluations of blackberry varieties and training systems, blueberry cultivars for Eastern and Western Kentucky, apple rootstock trials, and a study of a new disease in grapes.
Vegetable research funded by UK's New Crop Opportunities Center and the Ag Development Board includes evaluations of cucumber varieties and trellising methods, evaluations of summer squash varieties for disease resistance, and variety trials for pumpkin, muskmelon, specialty melon, watermelon, blackberry, grapes, tomatoes, and greens, among other fruits and vegetables. Other grants have supported studies to evaluate biological control for insect management in peppers and yellow vine decline in squash.
The College's other fruit and vegetable research areas include post-harvest handling of blackberries, growing greens in winter under tunnels made of clear plastic, agents for thinning organic apples, and greenhouse production of tomatoes and greens.
"We believe that when sufficient and timely knowledge about production is coupled with a marketing infrastructure that allows Kentucky producers to be aggressive, fruits and vegetables will become a major source of farm income," Ingram said.
Kentucky's fruit and vegetable industry is growing rapidly, in large measure due to the cooperation among a number of groups that have pooled their strengths, enthusiasm, and resources to make things happen now:
- The Kentucky Horticulture Council is a consortium of 13 industry and professional associations united to promote Kentucky horticulture and to focus energy on common problems and opportunities. The council has received two Agricultural Development Fund grants to support on-farm demonstrations, production systems, and variety trials and, through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, market assistance and promotion.
- The Kentucky Agricultural Development Board has provided funding to the Kentucky Horticulture Council and county agricultural development councils.
- The Kentucky Department of Agriculture offers restaurants an advertising subsidy if they feature Kentucky grown products, including fruits and vegetables; it also offers Web pages for local producers to advertise Kentucky-grown products; finally, it has worked with the governor's office to encouraging the use of Kentucky-grown fruits and vegetables at all Kentucky state parks.
- The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture provides farmers with comprehensive information about fruit and vegetable production and alternative crops through its traditional teaching, research, and extension programs. Its New Crop Opportunities Center is a USDA-funded program to support research in horticultural crops and specialty grains.
Potential Returns/Acre for Some Fruits and Vegetables
- Blackberries (after fifth year) $5,374
- Staked Tomatoes $3,884
- Bell Peppers $3,633
- Jalapeno Peppers $2,428
- Strawberries (U-Pick) $1,535
- Eggplant $968
- Cabbage $692
- Squash $599
- Cucumber $250
Source: Department of Agricultural Economics.
Note: Returns show how
much the producer has left after paying for all variable input costs
such as fertilizer, plants, and seed and are for an average year with
inputs at average price.