Fruits And Vegetables Are Now Being More Effectively Marketed

Published: 24th March 2010
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A local Crossville, Tennessee market owner recently shared a list of items that he had difficulty in obtaining, and that he needed during the summer season. His list included Half Runner, McCaslan, Caseknife and Greasy beans; pickling cucumbers of 1.5 to 2 inch diameter; fresh highly flavored sweet corn (yellow, white and bicolor); Red Cayanne pepper; colored bell pepper; Kennebec and Yukon Gold potatoes; watermelons (seedy and seedless), strawberries; greenhouse tomatoes (fall, winter, and spring seasons); and highly flavored local tomatoes in the summer season. He had an idea for a tomato festival that included tomato varieties not routinely found in regular market channels. This would include Rutgers, Celebrity, cherry, beefsteak, pink, yellow, yellow and red striped, and pear shaped varieties. Many of these varieties are less productive and have other production problems, but have excellent flavor compared to the standard commercial hybrid varieties. There is a marketing opportunity through this market at Crossville, and similar situations probably exist in most locations in the United States. A producer needs to search for such market opportunities.
The budgets and profitability of crops is another factor in production. Tomatoes have consistently been the most profitable crop for Tennessee producers. Greenhouse production is completely different, but is a rapidly growing enterprise in Tennessee. Sweet corn can be profitable, especially if a high plant population is used to provide high yields. We are planting twice the population (23,500 plants/A) than was planted several years ago, and are evaluating spacings for higher populations. Budgets that detail costs of production and likely returns are available for most crops, or a grower can develop their own budget.

Tree fruit production does not fit well into small scale agricultural production. The time between planting a tree and the first economic fruit harvest is relatively long. Large equipment is necessary to apply pesticides 10 to 12 times annually starting at the first bud break. Many pesticides are restricted use, and require special handling procedures. Trees need to be pruned at planting and annually in late winter.

Grapes offer some opportunity, but strawberries and blueberries are small fruit that offer more opportunity for small scale producers. Large fruit are required for successful marketing of strawberries and blueberries. Drip irrigation is needed in most areas for stand establishment and crop production. Overhead sprinkler irrigation is often necessary for frost protection. Strawberry production systems are changing from matted row to annual production. The culture of each system is entirely different.

Harvest of fruit and vegetable crops at the proper maturity is essential. Many crops have a very narrow harvest window, and proper maturity is needed to insure a marketable product. Crops that producers tend to harvest early are sweet corn and bell pepper. Sweet corn that is not fully mature has less flavor, and little usable grain. Immature bell pepper pods wilt rapidly and are not attractive. Crops that can easily be harvested too late are sweet corn, bell pepper, and green beans. Bell pepper may be harvested with some color showing. Most markets want a green or colored pepper pod, and not a partially colored pod. Sweet corn and green beans become tough rapidly is allowed to become overmature. Tomatoes are best harvested in the pink stage and harvesting twice a week may be needed for proper maturity. Pink tomatoes have full flavor. Fruit rot, cracking, and bruising may be less when harvest is at the pink stage.

Packaging of produce is a critical factor in marketing. Containers should protect the product and be attractive. Standard packs vary according to the type of product and the market demand, but many buyers require the use of standard size containers. Some routine container sizes are half bushels, bushels, 1 + 1/9 bushel, standard sweet corn crates to hold 4 1/2 dozen ears, and pints or quarts for berries. Many different types of materials are used in containers. Waxed pasteboard cartons are very widely used. Snap bean and sweet corn buyers often prefer wire bound wooden boxes. Melons are often sold in bulk cardboard boxes that hold approximately 250 muskmelon. Many markets may require specific counts and product size. for the container. Peppers and tomatoes are specific crops sold by uniform size. Peppers are usually boxed as extra large (40 to 50 -pods/1 + 1/9 bushel) to small (70 to 80 pods/1 + 1/9 bu box). This relatively uniform size allows the retail vendor to sell pepper pods by count. Prepacking in small consumer packages such as 3 potatoes or tomatoes is becoming more of a demand at the producer level. Local markets may have more or less stringent packaging requirements.

Product identification can be a useful tool in marketing. Certain areas or growers have developed a name for their product. Some examples are Vidalia onions, Granger County tomatoes, Washington apples, and Idaho potatoes. Product identification can work well for anyone who wants to stress and maintain quality. It should pay in repeat sales and prices received by the grower. We are considering this approach in Tennessee for Tri-X-Shadow seedless watermelon which has exceptional quality. An identification label could be attached to each melon citing the identification (maybe Tennessee Seedless).

Harvested fruits and vegetables are perishable, and quality loss starts immediately after harvest. Rapid marketing to insure freshness is a desirable feature of locally grown produce. Produce, not sold immediately, needs to be stored properly to maintain appearance, flavor, and quality. Time of harvest, cooling, and storing in shaded areas will help retain quality. Produce harvested early in the morning is cooler than if harvest is later in the day. Quality of products such as green beans, sweet corn, peppers, and peaches benefit from hydrocooling. Hydrocooled produce needs to be kept in a cooler to maintain the proper storage temperature after hydrocooling. Products such as broccoli and sweet corn benefit from storage with ice in the container or placed on ice to maintain a low temperature and to avoid drying of the produce. Produce that has been cooled, should be maintained in cool.

For tips on grilling brats and grilling filet mignon, visit the Grilling Meat website.

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