Increasing late winter/early spring sales for market gardeners through season extension and improved storage options

Project Overview

ONE14-213
Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2014: $12,497.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Monika Roth
Cornell Cooperative Extension Tompkins County

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: apples
  • Vegetables: beets, carrots, cucurbits, greens (leafy), leeks, onions, peppers, tomatoes, turnips

Practices

  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: economic/marketing

    Proposal abstract:

    This project is focused on improving the quality and quantity of fresh local produce available for sale through direct markets in late winter/early spring in South Central NYS. Year round farmers markets and increased demand for local produce by consumers, retailers and restaurants provide additional marketing opportunities for growers. Farmers are working to meet the demand but many lack infrastructure to extend the season and store produce for longer season sales. Infrastructure needs include hoop houses and proper cold storage facilities. For the past 2 seasons, growers have found that off-farm storage facilities are filled by October. Some growers have constructed coolers, which still do not meet their entire winter needs. Because of this, product quality suffers and producers are missing out on sales on both ends of the growing season.

    This project has 3 parts: assess producer capacity to meet local demand at either end of the season through season extension and access to storage facilities; identify potential to expand hoop house production; and assess crops, volume and demand for cold storage space. Producers will gain knowledge of crops in demand and will have improved options for cold storage and season extension, thereby increasing year-round sales and income. This information will be gathered through direct outreach to growers to assess production and storage facility needs. Off-farm storage options will be identified along with on-farm storage options. Workshops and technical assistance will provide growers with information they need to expand production and access additional on- and off-farm storage.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    PROJECT OVERVIEW
    Three project components will enhance the sustainability of local farming.

    First, we will assess current and potential producer capacity for early/late season production; we will focus outreach and technical assistance on season extension through on-farm storage and hoop houses; and we will work with farmers and distributors with cold storage space to lease space and coordinate an on-line reservation system. We will also help link farmers to buyers through a farmer-buyer networking meeting and a listing of wholesale buyers interested in local produce.

    The amount of available off-farm space for produce storage has not been quantified, nor do we know the exact crops and volumes for which farmers are seeking storage space. For businesses with storage capacity to invest in additional storage  space for farmers, they need data to inform construction and logistical plans.  Information gathered through this project will help ensure that there is adequate and proper storage capacity available now and into the future for farmers who do not have adequate on-farm storage.

    With more than 200 specialty crop producers in the region, it is critical that farmers consider shared infrastructure, collective marketing and more wholesaling as direct marketing options are increasingly saturated. This project will evaluate capacity to produce during either ends of the season with the use of technology, such as high tunnels, CoolBot coolers, and collective storage options as ways to meet the wholesale and year round demand. Our intention is to engage producers in farmer-led, hands-on training and tours that illustrate high tunnel and CoolBot construction; to host a winter storage workshop; to arrange a farmer-buyer networking meeting; and to work with storage facility operators to coordinate space rental. Through this assessment, we will gain information about infrastructure that would meet area specialty crop producer needs for  extended season sales. Depending on the results, we plan to prepare a funding application to the Southern Tier Regional NYS Economic Development Council Rural Initiative Fund for developing infrastructure.

    Farm produce sales range from $5,000/season at smaller farmers markets to $500,000 for larger multi-channel marketers. Small farmers are lagging and need to expand into unfilled niches. Within the 30-mile radius of Ithaca, total produce sales amount to approximately $10 million. Season extension and improved storage options could benefit 50 producers selling for 3 additional months by $12,000/farm. For the region, this could result in additional produce sales of $600,000.

    PROJECT METHODS AND PERFORMANCE TARGETS
    This project will use a combination of surveys, interviews, workshops and technical assistance. We will: assess capacity and interest in season extension through high tunnels and extended season storage; provide accurate information about farmer storage needs and capacity of area off-farm storage facility operators to meet farmer needs; host farm tours and provide technical assistance to expand use of inexpensive high tunnels and CoolBot technology; host a winter workshop that will inform and educate farmers about proper cold storage conditions for high-quality produce; and host a farmer-buyer networking meeting to increase farmer awareness of wholesale marketing and storage opportunities.

    Farmer Survey: Cooperative Extension maintains an extensive database of area producers. Produce farmers will be asked to complete a survey to document their interest and capacity to expand production via season extension and improved storage. The essential question to be answered is: to what degree would farmers expand production and year round sales if they had access to high tunnel technology and/or adequate storage? We estimate that 50 out of 200 producers in the region may currently be using high tunnels (no accurate data available). Only 9 farms have adopted low-cost, CoolBot technology. We intend to distribute the survey using a variety of outreach methods so that over the season we accumulate a comprehensive response. The survey will be designed to assess current production, interest and capacity to expand, season extension methods and storage needs. The standard price for off-farm storage is $25/pallet/month. In the survey, we will also ask farmers for their storage timeframes. This information will help them evaluate the cost effectiveness of storing on- vs. off-farm at that price. Farmers, who do not have e-mail, will be mailed the survey questions. Surveys will also be distributed and collected at workshops to be held as part of this project. The survey will also be included in Southern Tier Produce News, our regional produce newsletter received by more than 150 farmers. A follow-up post card will be mailed to all to encourage a high rate of response. About 200 area produce farmers will be surveyed.

    Face-to-Face Interviews of Storage Facility Managers:
    The 3 off-farm storage spaces currently used by 10 farmers in the region are at maximum capacity. An informal survey this fall of 3 food distributors and 2 larger farmers with on-farm storage indicated that those with potential space are full. Of the remaining options, two are under construction (Challenge and Remembrance Farm). The third is a produce wholesaler who is currently charging more for his space than others—$30/pallet/month — most likely in response the wholesaler’s experience with the farmer demand for space. Our intention for this project is to meet with each of the facility owners, tour spaces to see what kind of storage is available, and discuss storage options and prices for winter 2014-15. In addition to the 8 facilities we are aware of, we will also do additional research to determine if there is other storage space available in the region that could help meet farmer needs, and interview and tour these facilities as well. The intention of working through existing facilities is to avoid unnecessary new construction costs. By working together with existing facilities, we build a more collaborative community approach to solving farmer problems by networking farmers and distributors. These arrangements have the potential to result in collaborative marketing and additional sales
    opportunities for farmers. Storage options will be listed on the South Central NY Agriculture Program (SCNYAG) Web site—www.scnyag.com—with the goal of setting up an on-line reservation system.

    Workshops and Technical Assistance:
    To encourage the adoption of high tunnels for season extension and out-of-season sales, 30 farmers will attend a high tunnel workshop; 10 of the participants will use high tunnels for expanded season sales.
    To improve on-farm cold storage, crop quality and marketing, 50 farmers will attend an “Engineering Winter Storage Facilities for Vegetable Crops” winter workshop.
    To educate farmers about CoolBot technology, tours will be held at 3 farms using CoolBots. Technical assistance for CoolBot construction will be provided by Aaron Munzer who is the area representative for StoreItCold.
    15 farmers will use off-farm storage in two temperature-controlled facilities. The project team will coordinate with farmers and facilities to achieve this goal.
    50 farmers will attend a farmer-buyer networking meeting to learn more about wholesaling options in the region.
    At least 6 buyers on a panel will discuss their produce needs and requirements. A list of wholesaling options will be prepared to share with farmers attending and included on the SCNYAG Web site. At least 5 farms will initiate sales to new buyers.

    Currently, sales of direct market produce is estimated at $10 million. Through improved and expanded out-ofseason
    marketing and year round sales, 50 farms will increase sales by $12,000 for a regional total of $600,000 (3-year target). Furthermore, only 5 area farmers are involved in any significant amount of wholesaling. To increase farm sales and meet buyer demand for local produce in the late winter/early spring, 5 additional farmers will be involved in wholesaling (2-year target). Both of these targets will be measured by storage and sales data from farmers selling through Regional Access, Challenge Industries and other wholesalers/distributors.

    PROJECT TIMETABLE
    -Project team meeting/planning: Team Members, Partners: April 2014
    -Develop producer survey to be distributed at summer workshops, via e-mail/mail to assess interest/capacity to expand via season extension and storage: Team Members: April – October 2014
    -Tour Challenge facility with producers, evaluate storage opportunities: Matt LeRoux, Monika Roth, Steve Holzbaur: April 2014
    -CoolBot workshop #1, provide farmers with CoolBot information(survey farmers attending): Matt LeRoux, Aaron Munzer: May 2014
    -Technical assistance to farmers interested in installing CoolBots: Aaron Munzer: May – September 2014
    -High tunnel workshop #1 (survey farmers attending): CCE Fruit/Veg Specialist: May 2014
    -Follow up with farmers interested in high tunnels: CCE Fruit/Veg Specialist: June – November 2014
    -Interview distributors and farmers with cold storage space,tour facilities to assess capacity and suitability for various crops: Monika Roth, Matt LeRoux, CCE Fruit/Veg Specialist: August 2014
    -Coordinate producer storage needs for winter 2014/15, post information about storage space on SCNYAG Web site: Monika Roth:September – October 2014
    -Additional farmer outreach to secure capacity data (e-mail, post cards, personal outreach): CCE Fruit/Veg Specialist, Matt LeRoux: November 2014
    -Summarize data and review findings: Project Team: December 2014
    -Winter meetings with specialty crop producers on high tunnels and storage options (2 meeting locations and 2 topics = 4 total meetings): CCE Fruit/Veg Specialist: January – April 2015
    -Farmer Buyer Networking Meeting: Matt LeRoux; February 2015
    -Engineering Winter Cold Storage workshop: CCE Fruit/Veg Specialist, March 2015
    -Technical assistance provided to farmers with new CoolBots: CCE Fruit/Veg Specialist, Aaron Munzer: April – June 2015
    -Evaluate coordinated storage arrangements, develop on-line reservation system (if feasible): Matt LeRoux, Monika Roth: April 2015
    -Identify potential for a Southern Tier Regional Economic Development grant to improve season extension/storage capacity: Monika Roth:April 2015
    -Project final report: Project Team: May – June 2015

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.