Finding new Ways to
agricultural economy has been hiccupping for the past few years,
in almost perfect synchrony with federal cuts in tobacco quota.
Bargain-basement grain prices caused by large world surpluses
have further ratcheted down agricultures contribution to
the states economy. Over time, those hiccups have become
seizures that have quaked their way through the states economy,
shaking rural economies dependent on the golden leaf practically
to their foundations.
throughout Kentucky looking for a commodity that will replace
lost tobacco income are unlikely to find any single, legal crop
that can mimic the qualities of tobacco: a crop with a high return
from small acreage with a ready market. Although several crops
together may replace lost income, farmers need help in finding
those crops and learning how to produce and market them.
The New Crop Opportunities Center, an initiative of the College
of Agriculture unveiled in July 2000, is helping farmers identify
those crops, find out how best to produce them, and locate markets
Line Questions and Research
the New Crop Opportunities Center
already has under way a spate of research and Extension projects
both in production and marketing of new and sometimes novel crops
its biggest contribution to date may well be its template for
farmers to use in evaluating whether a new or novel crop could
fit into a farms operation profitably.
Primer for Selecting New Enterprises for Your Farm, developed
by agricultural economics faculty members, asks the farmer for
answers to thorny questions before a farmer plunges headlong into
production of any new commodity. While using the Primer wont
necessarily make a farmer successful, it can help avoid investing
money and time into an enterprise that wont be profitable.
research under way under the auspices of the New Crop Opportunities
Center is helping farmers with both production information and
marketing information. Heres a taste of the current research
the disease resistance of bell pepper varieties to bacterial
feasibility for growing and marketing soft white winter wheat
(used for specialty bakery items such as flat breads, cakes,
pastries, crackers, and noodles),
for fresh and u-pick operations, and
and marketing novel soybeans, such as edamame and varieties
that produce better-tasting soybean products.
In addition, the Center is funding projects that investigate landscape
plants and native plants that have landscape potential and programs
for producing and marketing them. A controlled water table irrigation
system for greenhouse production of bedding plants, potted plants,
and vegetable transplants is being evaluated in commercial greenhouses.
we know of a crop that would be a real
money maker for Kentuckians, but theres just a small glitch
with it and our scientists will find a way to overcome that glitch,
bell peppers for example. Bell peppers were a profitable crop
in the 1980s for a few Kentucky farmers but their good fortune
with raising them was generally short-lived. It wasnt a
marketing issue that caused almost all bell pepper farmers to
abandon production. In fact, Kentucky had a pretty good marketing
system in placebuying stations where farmers could deliver
their peppers for grading and sales were located close to production
areas. What dissuaded farmers from growing them was bacterial
spot, a disease that could reduce a promising harvest to not
worth picking status in quick order.
thanks to research by horticulturists and plant pathologists associated
with the New Crop Opportunities Center, bacterial spot is a manageable
issue now. Many producers have once again begun producing bell
peppers, using varieties developed in the mid and late 1990s that
can return between $900 and $1,000 per acre for land and management.
(Farmers who provide their own labor can add the cost of labor
to their profits.)
- David Van Sanford
Our research was unique. Not only did we assess different
varieties abilities to withstand disease pressure, we also
evaluated their desirability for marketing. Even if a variety
showed great resistance to bacterial spot, if it didnt produce
peppers with excellent market characteristics, we didnt
recommend it to farmers, said Bill Nesmith, plant pathologist.
New Crop Opportunities Center is also funding scientists to evaluate
blackberry varieties for Kentucky and to develop production and
can be quite profitable for producers who can wait a few years
for a patch to come into full production. In fact, a fully mature
patch of blackberries has the potential to return somewhere between
$1,500 and $1,800 per acre, said Tim Woods. Woods is an
agricultural economist who has conducted marketing feasibility
studies for a variety of crops new to Kentucky.
several small to mid-sized packing companies in Kentucky and in
neighboring states are interested in buying blackberries for freezing
if growers can provide a volume sufficient to change their production
lines, he said.
Many of Kentuckys small blackberry producers find
ready markets for their produce at farmers markets and in
u-pick operations, he said.
Waves of Grain
isnt just horticultural crops that may hold promise for
Kentuckys farmers. The New Crop Opportunities Center also
is supporting research for crops suited for larger acreage and
less intensive management. Scientists are investigating soft white
winter wheat as a specialty crop for some farmers, particularly
those who already have the know-how to grow wheat successfully.
(Kentucky wheat production is generally of the soft red winter
wheat variety which is often blended with hard red winter
wheat, produced in the Great Plains for all-purpose flours.)
Soft white winter wheat is nearly exclusively grown in the Pacific
Northwest and Michigan, where the climate is quite different from
Kentuckys. (Wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest is used
for Asian noodles; that grown in Michigan generally ends up in
cereal products.) But because wheat has been adapted to different
climates for centuries it was first grown in Mesopotamia
in ancient times it may be possible that a variety of soft
white winter wheat can be developed to fit Kentuckys growing
conditions better. Thats what wheat breeder David Van Sanford
is working on.
Millers prefer the soft white wheat over soft red winter wheat,
which is traditionally grown in Kentucky, because they can mill
a little closer to the bran without fear of introducing the bitter
taste of bran into the flour.
past year saw soft white winter wheat production double
to about 1,500 acres, all being grown by producers who contracted
to deliver it to a Hopkinsville miller at a premium above September
Sanford, who is also co-director of the New Crop Opportunities
Center, is working on developing a new wheat variety, especially
adapted for Kentucky, that will be resistant to vomitoxin and
sprouting in wet weather two problems with current varieties.
(Vomitoxin results when a fungus, Gibberella zeae, invades the
kernel of grain. It gives the grain an off-flavor, has an adverse
effect on dough products, and can cause sickness in high doses.)
If we can develop a wheat cultivar that can be grown in
Kentucky that is resistant to both sprouting and to the fungus
that causes vomitoxin, we can help Kentucky farmers increase their
profits from growing this specialty wheat, he said.
Soybean by Any Other Name...
Sally Ellis, Sara McNulty
new and sometimes novel crops may hold a
place in the panoply of commodities that might help Kentucky farmers
replace lost tobacco quota income.
edamame (ed-ah-MAH-may), an edible green soybean that can be boiled,
shelled, or eaten as a snack, or tossed into salads and other
dishes, and whose nutritive virtues are legend. The market is
such that it may hold some potential for a few producers in Kentucky
right now and perhaps more later, should the market for the bean
Sara McNulty and Sally Ellis, two Daviess County farmers, are
experimenting with the crop with help from the faculty cooperating
in the New Crop Opportunities Center. In 1998 and 1999, McNulty
produced edamame in test plots. She harvested some of the beans
at the green stage and marketed them in specialty stores in Owensboro
and Louisville. At the green stage, the beans are slightly oval
to round, a bit greener than peas (but not as dark as green beans)
and taste just a bit richer and nuttier than butterbeans.
2000, McNulty teamed up with Sally Ellis, a neighboring commercial
vegetable producer, to increase the scale of production. That
harvest was marketed in Lexington, as well as Louisville and Owensboro.
McNulty coordinated sales for two other producers from Shelby
County whose beans sold through the Louisville Farmers Market,
where health-conscious consumers scarfed them up at $4 to $5 per
pound. The edamames sold out every weekend at that market.
Woods and Extension associate Matt Ernst, both agricultural economists,
worked with the two farmers to develop budgeting and marketing
information for their crop about an acre all totaled last
budget indicated that the potential for edamame for the frozen
market might be $300 return for each acre grown which compares
favorably with some other more traditional crops, but not with
tobacco. But after a years experience in growing edamame,
the two farmers believe that the return can be between $1,500
and $1,800 per acre, if certain post-harvest issues can be worked
out; namely, the beans have to be chilled quickly in the field
and then delivered to the plant post haste so they can be flash
frozen to keep them from turning sour.
if a large enough fresh market can be developed, McNulty believes
that growers can wholesale them for about $3 per pound. Harvest
can be up to 9,000 pounds per acre. (Fresh markets require that
growers mind their ps and qs at harvest. Just like
those for the frozen market, the beans have to be picked by hand,
quickly chilled either in the field or right after picking, and
rushed to market to be sold in a couple of days to avoid the beans
turning sour, McNulty said.)Larger
acreages might mean that machinery can pick and sort the beans.
other soybean work, UK agronomists are assessing comparative yield
and quality characteristics of several types of novel soybean
varieties, including some with high protein, tofu, natto (for
fermenting), and high sucrose qualities that will bring a premium
in niche markets.
projects are just the beginning. Our faculty will continue to
explore new opportunities for farmers and to provide research
and Extension support for these new initiatives, Ingram
center isnt really a place at all its a virtual
or conceptual center comprised of College of Agriculture faculty
from a variety of disciplines. It was developed to provide a systematic
evaluation of both the production and marketing of crops that
havent been a major component of Kentuckys traditional
mix of farm commodities, said Dewayne Ingram, chair of the
department of horticulture and co-director of the New Crop Opportunities
Marketing is as fundamental to profits as producing the crop itself,
he said. Thus, the faculty, staff, and student teams are concentrating
on both at the same time.
farmer can grow bumper crops of Jerusalem artichokes, for example,
but if there isnt a market (as there wasnt in the
early 1980s when the Jerusalem artichoke was touted as a panacea
for rural Americas troubles), then it is useless to plant
them, Ingram said.
is the Art of the Possible
two part-time farmers whose names are Cynthia and Cynthia compete
with the likes of Ernest and Julio Gallo, not to mention haute-cuisine
bet, provided you market the wine around tourism, said Cynthia
Bohn, an entrepreneur whos more than dabbling in wine production
at her Woodford County farm, Equus Run. Bohn, an IBM executive
by day and farmer by weekend and evenings, started her 35-acre
vineyard, or as she calls it, wine boutique, in 1998 near Midway,
Kentucky, whose major industry these days is the block-long strip
of boutiques and antique stores.
The idea of the winery business came to Bohn while she was at
a Harvard Business School management class, studying the Mondavi
and Gallo (wine producers) case studies.
a year of planning and fine tuning, I called my college best friend
(Cynthia Hall) in the banking business and asked for her input
and financial review of the business plan. She joined the company
as a business partner and financial retail manager, Bohn
on a tobacco farm near Elizabethtown, Bohn describes their enterprise
with a large dose of romantic language. Their web site refers
to the vineyard as set amidst picturesque stone fences,
thoroughbreds and the quaint charm of Midway and gently
wrapped by the banks of the Elkhorn Creek.
idea is working and the two Cynthias are indeed profiting from
it and they hope to profit even more in years to come as
Equus Run Vineyards becomes really popular. The operation produced
4,100 cases of wine last year with the goal of 10,000 cases in
the next few years.
Run has a tasting room, which is emerging as a tourist attraction
last year more than 15,000 people stopped and tasted wine and
bought at least one bottle of Equus Run wine. And special wine-tasting
events held throughout the year and which include such ambiance
boosters as soft music from a jazz combo set the stage for
success in marketing wine at $4.50 a glass. (The wine glass, with
the Equus Run logo, is a take-home item a memento of a glorious
day in the country that helps customers recall the pleasure of
the day they enjoyed.)
Run also markets wine through nine restaurants and retail shops.
We have a waiting list for our wine distribution as
soon as we make more. We look forward to using more Kentucky-grown
grapes as other vineyards across the state continue to mature,
and Hall worked closely with several College of Agriculture faculty,
including horticulturists John Strang, Jerry Brown, and Dewayne
Ingram, to get the vineyard up and running.
university has been gracious in responding to the recent growth
and changes in the Kentucky grape and wine industry. We are moving
forward in funding additional academic and Extension support because
of their valuable help in making our enterprise work, Bohn