Newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service: A project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). This issue of ATTRAnews is available online.
Growing Small Fruits
As farmers and ranchers search for ways to stay competitive, they often consider adding new crops and products -- or new markets such as organic. Variety can attract new customers and spread out production risks, so farmers don't "put all their eggs in one basket."
Small fruits such as berries are in demand because of their delicious flavors and their nutritious anti-oxidant properties. In this issue we look at some considerations of growing and marketing small fruits.
In this issue:
Consumer demand for blueberries has boomed over the last 10 years, ever since scientific research showed the fruit's special health benefits. Blueberries are a good source of anti-oxidants and vitamin C. The tannins in blueberries can help prevent urinary tract infections, and half a cup of blueberries contains only 40 calories.
Growers may want to consider organic production to ease consumer health concerns both on and off the farm.
Producers will find a number of marketing options. Fresh blueberries can be sold at farmers' markets, roadside stands, or "U-pick" operations. There are well-established wholesale markets for fresh and frozen blueberries.
Blueberries are a popular U-pick crop. When acreage exceeds the capacity of U-pick customers, hired labor becomes necessary. One rule of thumb suggests that 10 to 15 pickers per acre are required during the height of the harvest season.
As local retail markets become saturated, many growers also sell their berries through growers' cooperatives. Value-added processing options include jams, juice, and frozen berries.
On-farm value-added blueberry products require setting up a rural enterprise with considerable planning, management, and start-up expenses. Working with co-packers may be a viable alternative to doing your own processing.
Because blueberries are highly perishable, efficient post-harvest handling is important. Berry flats should be quickly refrigerated after harvest. For commercial growers, a walk-in cooler is a must, as is a grading and packing shed.
Highbush blueberry plants typically start producing in the third season, with yields increasing for the next four years. When the bushes are mature, blueberries yield about three tons per acre.
Because blueberries are expensive to establish and maintain, growers often do not realize a return on their capital investment until the seventh year. Well-maintained blueberry bushes remain productive for at least 15 to 20 years.
—Adapted from the ATTRA publication Blueberries: Organic Production
— Adapted from ATTRA's Organic Culture of Bramble Fruits
Bramble fruits -- blackberries, raspberries, dewberries, tayberries, boysenberries, and loganberries -- can be a good crop to add to the production mix for the small-scale and/or part-time farmer. Once established, raspberry plantings, for example, should produce for at least six years, with some types bearing for more than 20 years. Bramble fruits can extend the small producer's offerings and harvest season. However, since bramble fruits have special production requirements and a very short shelf life and marketing season, growing them is not appropriate for everyone.
High costs of establishment, labor, and irrigation often discourage growers from getting into the bramble market. Economically, raspberries or blackberries are considered to be a medium- to high-risk crop because of the large initial investment, high fixed costs, biological uncertainties such as climate, and the fact that returns are delayed for two or more years.
Can You Make Money Growing Cane Berries?
Before you plant fields, make your marketing arrangements. Since costs are high, it is crucial to locate markets that will pay the premium prices required to turn a profit. U-pick marketing is highly attractive as a low-investment alternative. However, these operations may be required to sell at relatively low prices. See below for more about U-pick enterprises.
It is advantageous to organic and low-input growers to select well-adapted species and varieties, especially those that are genetically resistant to common diseases. By doing so, growers find they have more time and resources to spend on other critical areas, such as weed control. Cultivar information is readily available from state or county cooperative extension services and from local nurseries. It is important to buy from reputable suppliers to ensure virus-free and nematode-free planting stock.
— Adapted from the ATTRA publication Entertainment Farming & Agri-Tourism
Less popular now than in the days of large families and stay-at-home moms, U-pick operations still have the potential to provide some on-farm income. Today U-pick -- also known as pick-your-own -- enterprises are often part of entertainment farms that offer many family-oriented rural activities.
Pick-your-own farms do best when they are located within an hour's drive of a population center of at least 50,000 people. Even so, customers will be adversely affected by cold or wet weather or any dramatic rise in the price of gasoline.
Pick-your-own operations bring added responsibility for the grower. Farms must provide restrooms, adequate parking, and a safe entertainment area for small children. Farmers must work with an insurer on liability issues. Organic practices fit well with U-pick operations because the risk of exposure to pesticides is dramatically reduced.
Farm fields and facilities must be kept tidy and attractive. The best mix of vegetables and fruits will depend on customers' tastes -- which are becoming more sophisticated -- rather than on what can most easily be grown. Attention to these basics will help build repeat sales, a primary goal of all direct marketing.
Resources for U-Pick Operations
Comprehensive national website for promoting and finding local food: www.localharvest.org
Guidelines for Farmers
Websites and Maps for Consumers
Farm Trail organizations make it easy for consumers to find on-farm produce and agritourism operations. Here are links to some good examples for regions considering this kind of marketing.
National Agriculture Library's Alternative Farming Systems Information Center provides links to the best current information on sustainable and organic production - click Alternative Crops and Plants, then click Specialty, Heirloom and Ethnic Fruits and Vegetables and then click Fruits and Nuts. Or call (301) 504-6559.
Small Fruits Resources website gives numerous links to newsletters, production guides, and information across the country. From Cornell University's Tree Fruit and Berry Pathology Group
Midwest Small Fruit and Grape Network provides information on management, commercial production, harvesting, and marketing of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, highbush blueberries, and grapes.
North American Fruit Explorers is a network of individuals in the U.S. & Canada who share information about growing well-known and minor fruit such as mayhaws, kiwis, persimmons, and pawpaws.
Northwest Center for Small Fruits Research is a collaboration of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon agricultural experiment stations, USDA-ARS, and the small-fruits industry: (541) 758-4043.
Ohio State University Extension offers links to a large number of newsletters and other resources for small-fruit growers across the country.
Resources about Currants and Gooseberries is hosted by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Southern Region Small Fruits Consortium offers newsletters, conferences, and strategic marketing for small-fruit producers. From N. Carolina State Univ., Clemson Univ., Univ. of Arkansas, Univ. of Georgia, Univ. of Tennessee, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ.: (919) 515-6963.
The following publications can be downloaded for free at the ATTRA website, or you can call 1-800-346-9140 for a free print copy.
Small Fruit Publications
ATTRA Publications to Guide Farm Enterprise Planning
Small-Fruit Pest Management
New and Updated Publications
ATTRAnews is the bi-monthly newsletter of The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service - ATTRA - which was developed and is managed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). The project is funded through a cooperative agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture's Rural Business-Cooperative Service. Visit the NCAT Web site for more information on our other sustainable agriculture and energy projects.
Teresa Maurer, Project Manager
Comments? Questions? Email the Weekly Harvest Newsletter editor Karen Van Epen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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