Small-scale growers hustle to meet demand

08/02/2013 11:19:00 AM
Melissa Shipman

With the demand for locally grown produce on the rise, small-scale growers are starting to move up the ladder a bit in response to the need for more supply.

“We have seen farmers that sell at a farmers market or farm stand increasing their production with the goal to get into food chain stores,” said Mark Powell, chief of marketing and agribusiness development for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Powell said he expects to see other farmers follow in that pattern.

“I think we’ll see some smaller farmers get bigger,” he said.

Bill Walker, agriculture marketing specialist, New Jersey Department of Agriculture, said he also has seen smaller growing operations increasing in size and produce offerings.

“I see people taking input from customers and maybe planting some new crops or varieties in addition to adding acreage,” Walker said.

These increases also work the other way.

In New Jersey, where there are several food desert areas, Walker has seen some of the state’s larger producers participate in farmers markets in addition to the wholesale or retail markets.

This helps provide local produce in other areas.

Kathy Means, vice president of public affairs for the Produce Marketing Association, said it’s possible for smaller-scale growers to move up although it isn’t a given.

“For one thing, land limitations can be restricting. There’s only so much land available, so they’ll have to be more productive on their current acres or stay the same size,” Means said.

In addition, not all growers are likely ready to make the jump to a larger-scale operation.

“If they have succeeded up to this point, they are fairly good business folks, so they’ll try to assess the market and see if it makes sense,” Powell said.

Of course, local isn’t the only answer for produce.

“In a lot of areas, local can’t be the solution. For instance, I can’t imagine life without bananas, and those can’t be grown locally, although consumers may not understand that,” Means said.

Moreover, local seasons often can’t supply year-round supplies.

“Local isn’t going to supply the year-round supply you want. It may supply a lot, but to eat half of our plates in fruits and vegetables we need a global supply chain,” Means said.



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