Small farmer cooperatives in the South contribute more than just farm production to society. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for small farmer cooperatives with limited resources to survive in today’s dynamic agricultural environment. As farm policies demand a turn toward a more business-like approach, small farmer cooperatives–especially limited resource farmer cooperatives–must consider alternative enterprises and more innovative ways of marketing their products.
Market development programs and resources are critical to bolster the marketing opportunities for small farmer cooperatives, especially limited resource farmer cooperatives. Therefore, profitable markets are critical to survival for this segment of the farm population.
The New North Florida Cooperative Association (NNFC) had three objectives in their producer grant project. The first was to conduct a market analysis of the Department of Defense (DOD) food service program. The DOD Subsistence Office in Jacksonville, Florida purchases from approximately 50 vendors and two small farmers cooperatives for distribution of agricultural produce to schools and military bases. The NNFC found that they could provide leafy greens as a value-added product and also muscadine grapes. The key factors in providing these products were volume required, frequency of deliveries and transportation logistics.
The second objective was to determine if limited-resource farmers’ cooperatives in Florida, Georgia and Alabama could meet the criteria of the DOD. Because they were providing fresh produce—as opposed to frozen or canned—they had to ship daily and in comparatively lower quantities.
The third objective was to evaluate what they had learned. They found that the project yielded information regarding project selection, purchasing and packaging requirements. They also found that while there is a tremendous market opportunity with the DOD, they need to put more effort into infrastructure development in limited-resource farmer cooperatives. That infrastructure they found is critical in meeting the marketing opportunities of the DOD.