- Fruits: berries (other)
- Farm Business Management: cooperatives, marketing management, feasibility study, agricultural finance, market study, value added
- Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities
This group application was submitted by Christopher Patton, Dan Moe, Loren Nickelson, and Paul Otten on behalf of current and potential elderberry producers in MN. Collectively, the four producers also constituted the initial board of directors of the recently incorporated Minnesota Elderberry Cooperative (MEC). The MEC was formed to be the vehicle by which small farmers could work together to determine the feasibility of wide-scale production of elderberries in the state and region, for subsequent cooperative processing and marketing of value-added juices, wines and concentrates.
The four growers affiliated with this application were searching for new crops that strengthen existing sustainable farm operations by accessing new markets (i.e. health conscious consumers). Each has been engaged for several years in commercial small fruit production, though with a diversity of marketing strategies. Each wanted solutions that were sustainable commercially and environmentally.
The primary issue addressed was whether small sustainable/organic farmers can further diversify their businesses by profitably growing and processing elderberries in MN. The University of Missouri’s financial pro forma suggested that small to medium sized producers can add modest elderberry plantings (4-10 acres) at an establishment cost of $2500-$4500 per acre. Under market conditions in Missouri, experience-based projections suggested that growers could earn $500-6500/acre net return. Would the experiences of elderberry production in Missouri directly transfer to Minnesota?
However, with emerging niche markets, the issue is almost NEVER that of “production” but of “marketing”. Experiences in other places suggest that a mix of market opportunities may be accessible to small growers (sales of fruit to wineries, sales of juice or jellies at farmers markets, etc.), but no such research has been done to assess these opportunities for Minnesota producers. Further, would a growers cooperative contribute positively to elderberry growing, processing and marketing elderberries and elderflowers?
Project goals as identified in our grant application:
- Conduct a market study
- Conduct grower outreach and education
- Further business development
- Capitalization of a growers cooperative