fruits and veg

AMES, Iowa — Local foods were among the fastest growing segments of the U.S. food industry in 2008, with some market researchers estimating sales will grow from $5 billion to more than $7 billion by 2011. Working across the supply chain, a new Iowa State University-based group is helping farmers, distributors and retailers of fruits and vegetables plan for those future markets.

The Fruit and Vegetable Working Group has met with more than 100 Iowa growers, buyers, processors and distributors during the past year. The group is coordinated by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Iowa State University (ISU) Extension as part of a Value Chain Partnerships project that is helping to build local food systems that reward farmers who use high standards of environmental and community stewardship.

"Our goal is to help increase capacity for local fruit and vegetable production in Iowa by increasing the number of growers and working with existing growers as they expand their operations," says Malcolm Robertson, Leopold Center program specialist and working group co-coordinator. "We also hope to identify constraints to delivering high-quality produce to those markets."

Robertson brings to the group experience with the commercial horticulture industry in Africa and training in agricultural economics. Group co-coordinator Margaret Smith, a program specialist in Value Added Agriculture Extension at ISU, works with farmers on production and marketing of specialty crops and livestock products. She also co-manages a crop and livestock farm in Franklin County.

"Buyers are looking for more local produce than Iowa growers currently can supply, so there is a market pull," Smith said. "There are real constraints to farmers to increasing their production, but many are expanding into wholesale markets."


A survey of Iowa fruit and vegetable growers showed that their major challenges are marketing, labor and post-harvest handling. Other pressing issues include finding ways to increase proftability by extending the growing season with technologies such as high tunnels and storage facilities. 

Since its launch a year ago, the group has hosted two workshops and two field days on high tunnel production and growing for wholesale markets. The group also provides funds for research and development. Current projects include a five-year business summary of start-up vegetable farms to provide information for beginning farmers and a decision tool for vegetable growers to help them determine at what size and scale they might expand and upgrade their post-harvest handling systems.

The Fruit and Vegetable Working Group will meet November 20 at the ISU Memorial Union in Ames. Smith will report on the analysis of beginning vegetable farms, and Chris Blanchard of Decorah will report on the post-harvest handling decision tool. They also will discuss activities and grant opportunities for the coming year.

Anyone interested in attending the meeting should contact Malcolm Robertson, (515) 294-1166,; or Margaret Smith, (515) 294-0887,

More information is available on the Value Chain Partnerships web site,

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