My husband and I are row crop farmers in Southeast Missouri. We grow about 1000 acres of cotton, about 1500 acres of corn and about 1500 acres of soybeans. We lease ground from three landowners and farm on a percent. We have five full time employees who work with us. Before this project we had never grown any crops other than traditional row crops. Low crop prices for our traditional row crops were the basis for considering non traditional crops and direct marketing. When I applied for this grant I reported that our farm headquarters was in the city limits of our town and the town was developing around us. Since that time our farm shop where we had been for 25 years has been demolished to make way for a paved city road that now goes directly through the exact spot where our shop was located. Our road frontage has been sold by that landlord to a bank (on the site where the mums were grown in the falls of 1999 and 2000) and to Lowes (the Lowes store opened for business this past Monday).
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Our project was to use a one acre highway frontage field to its greatest potential by creating a roadside stand on our farm to direct market field mums and fall ornamentals instead of growing cotton there. We expected the per acre potential to be much greater for this alternative crop because of the premium location. We grew about 6000 mums as well as ornamental Indian corn, gourds, strawberry popcorn, regular popcorn on the cob, miniature pumpkins. We saved corn stalks from our corn field and cut fifteen stalks and tied together for sale. We bought straw and pumpkins to resell at a profit so that shoppers at our stand could have everything in one stop needed for a fall yard display. We saved a small plot of cotton beside the mum field for people to pick. We also grew mums in pots on one acre of land not usable for farming to carry to the stand at the time of vending. In mid-September we sat up a portable canopy, decorated it and began to market our wares. The field of flowers was beautiful, the response from the community was outstanding and we sold everything we had grown within six weeks. The project was an overwhelming success.
As I expected in my application for the grant my premium location was gobbled up by urban progress. The site was sold in the fall of 2000 but I was given permission to finish selling the mums I had in the ground. As soon as we removed our portable canopy the excavators were brought in to prepare the ground for the new bank. The adjoining frontage road was sold to Lowes. My landlord offered me an off road location but I decided not to plant a mum crop for fall 2001 because I wanted to assess the effect the lawn and garden department of Lowes would have on my business.
According to the field history for this one acre field, its average profit for a cotton crop was about $135.00. The landlord receives one fourth, $35.00, resulting in a net profit of $100.00 for growing cotton on that acre. With the help of this marketing grant, I created a market for chrysanthemums and fall ornamentals that yielded about $10,000.00 from the acre of ground.
In preparing for my project I evaluated strategies for attracting customers at my roadside stand. I put up 4×8 signs and staked the rows with flags designating the colors in each row. Early on the public was curious because in a farm community they were accustomed to recognizing the traditional crops but knew this was something different. Procuring a market was a given. I had planned to advertise in the local paper but the paper did a large front page story with colored pictures which saved that expense and was much more effective than any ad I could have run. I hired help up take money at the stand but most of the time I was digging continuously.
Despite my research, start up supplies turned out to be more expensive than I had anticipated. Rooted cuttings were 31 cents each (time 7500), irrigation equipment, ground cover and plastic pots were more than I had expected. The planting of mums in the field went easily but the mums we planted in the pots were very labor intensive. We sat up an assembly line to fill the pots with soil, mix the fertilizer, plant the cutting and take the pot out to its place on the ground cover but the 1500 we put in the pots were a lot of hard work. Also they did not do as well as the mums in the field. My conclusion is that because field mums have very shallow roots that spread out the pots unless they are given regular fertilizer do not allow the plant roots to spread out enough to support a large plant. Most of our field mums were twice as big as our potted mums.
Most of the actual physical labor involved in the whole project was during the marketing. We had two shovels in the field but I dug almost every mum and either placed it on a cardboard flat or into a plastic pot. This is a lot of digging. A lot of physical labor was required. The Indian corn and ornamental corn was also very labor intensive. We planted it with the large equipment but when we harvested it by hand we put it into large buckets and carried it to the house. Then we had to turn the shucks back and tie it into bundles. There was quite a bit of insect damage this year and some of the ears were damaged and unusable so we had some loss there. We planted the ornamental gourds and miniature pumpkins by hand and then picked them and dipped them in clear gloss. That also was quite a bit of labor for the price we were able to get for them. Some of them got black spots on them after we had done the whole process and were not sellable.
It was necessary to purchase a city vending license and a nursery license from the USDA. The crop was inspected by the USDA for disease and certified to be disease free.
We ended up selling about 6000 field mums for about $2.50 average, about 1500 potted mums for about $1.50 average. Our sales of Indian and ornamental gourds and popcorn were significantly less than we had hoped but still had value for our project in terms of the aesthetic quality they added to our stand. Sales of ornamentals probably averaged around $2000. We bought and resold about 5000 pounds of pumpkins which averaged about 10 cents/lb profit. We sold about 100 bundles of corn stalks for $5 each. We could have sold more but we didn’t get them cut and put into the storage before thy got to mature and the tops fell out of the stalks. In order to sell they need to still be a little green when they are cut. We purchase about 500 bales of straw and resold it for about $1/bale profit. In total, receipts were about half of what we had hoped, around $20,000 and expenses were close to $10,000 not including labor. The per acre profitability for our acre was around $10,000 (compared to the present $100.00 per acre). We did have quite a bit of items left over that could be used the next year including ground cover, irrigation tubing and plastic pots.
This project’s greatest impact was not financial, however. Our large flowers garden in the middle of town made a significant contribution to the community. I believe it hindered the growing perception that farming has become big business, done with big machines with all of the crops going down the river in a barge. We had over 10,000 people who stopped at our roadside stand and many returned numerous times.
One of the things I did was to distribute information to every farmer in our area inviting them to visit our project and consider planting mums. I believe the market is there for as many mums as we would be able to grow. I helped one farmer’s wife who lived about 20 miles south of me with written cultural information regarding planting, fertilizing and watering, sharing with her catalogs and resources so that she could plant mums this year. I also helped a young man start a patch in our town. He is not a farmer by occupation but decided to try a project similar to mine because of the success of my stand.