Arkansas farmers’ markets believed to be growing on pace with nation in population centers; still a rarity in rural areas
By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture
March 11, 2016
- Direct-to-consumer sales a strong avenue for small-scale and specialty-crop growers
- While farmers’ markets grow in Arkansas cities, rural areas still lacking
LITTLE ROCK — Small-scale and specialty crop growers using farmers’ markets, roadside stands and other forms of direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales continue to show steady growth, even as margins for large-scale commodity growers remain tight, University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture experts said this week.
Ron Rainey, extension economist for the Division of Agriculture, said Arkansas growers’ embrace of DTC marketing was keeping pace with a larger trend across the nation. The overall survivability of growers engaging in DTC sales was highlighted this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, examining farm survival rates between the two most recent Census of Agriculture reports, published in 2007 and 2012, respectively. The next Census of Agriculture report is expected in 2017.
“We’ve had a downturn in commodity prices,” Rainey said. “So the large-scale guys are looking at getting lower prices when they sell their crops. Cotton rice, soybeans, wheat — their prices are relatively lower, and their input costs are still high.
“Those commodity growers experienced record highs in recent years — in 2012, we saw $10-$12 soybeans and $4-$5 corn,” he said. “Now it’s half that in some places. You haven’t had that drastic shift in prices on the specialty crop side. So they’re having to deal with fewer market fluctuations.”
Between 2007 and 2012, farmers’ markets across the United States increased about 200 percent, according to the USDA. During that same period, similar markets in Arkansas increased about 50-75 percent, Rainey said.
“Farmers’ markets are in the populated areas,” Rainey said. “So while we’re on pace with the nation in our metropolitan areas, the fact is, we don’t have very many of those. Once we get a farmers’ market in every county, then it becomes an issue of getting at least two in the metropolitan areas.”
Rainey said the number of farmers’ markets in Arkansas increased from about 75 in 2007 to about 100 in 2012.
“In our urban areas, when the markets are, farmers are experiencing tremendous support and interest,” he said. “Even expanding beyond farmers’ markets to CSA’s, farm stands and agri-tourism, they’re all on the upswing.”
While farmers’ markets are an effective way for growers to find new customers, some growers have built a reputation for produce that brings consumers directly to their property. Bill Landreth, a Newport grower who farms about 110 acres of strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, sweet corn and purled hulled peas combined, said that although he often had employees representing the farm at several farmers’ markets each week in season, with the exception of watermelon sales — for which he uses a distributor in Springdale — 99 percent of his sales are made at his roadside stand.
“Personally, I don’t have the time to go to farmers’ markets,” Landreth said. “At the stand, we’ll sell 150 flats of strawberries a day. On a real good Saturday at the market, we might sell 75.”
Neal Mays, a cooperative extension agent in Benton County, said Bentonville, Rogers and Springdale will see an expanded farmers’ market presence this spring. He said consumer interest in “pick-it-yourself” operations throughout the county has also increased.
“We’re seeing some acreage expansion in the ‘you-pick’ sector,” Mays said. “I know some of the established farms here that haven’t previously done you-pick are talking about going that direction. It’s a way for some people to experience a little bit of ‘agro-tourism’ — actually experiencing what it’s like to harvest their own food, instead of buying it in a container.”
To learn more about farmers’ markets and other forms of direct-to-consumer marketing, contact your local cooperative extension agent or visit www.uaex.edu.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service