Practical Farmers of Iowa has published a new report that explores the challenges and opportunities to increasing wholesale fruit and vegetable sales in Iowa and outlines strategies for overcoming these barriers. The goal is to increase the production in Iowa fruit and vegetable farming.
The report "Scaling Up: Perspectives from Growers and Buyers on Barriers and Benefits to Wholesale Marketing of Fruits and Vegetables" is available to read or download on Practical Farmers' website. Funding for the report was provided by The Ceres Foundation, the statewide Local Food and Farm Initiative and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University.
Fruit and vegetable farming is a small industry in Iowa, but one that is growing as more Iowa consumers express interest in buying locally grown produce. In response, many growers are looking to scale up their fruit and vegetable farming operations. Selling produce to wholesale markets such as schools, institutions, restaurants and retail outlets is one way of scaling up, as it allows farmers to focus on raising crops without the time-consuming aspects of managing direct-to-consumer sales.
A number of obstacles are hampering expansion of wholesale market in Iowa
Despite the demand and a corps of Iowa producers and wholesale buyers eager to fill it, a number of obstacles continue to impede expansion of the wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Iowa. Growers specified barriers that included difficulty keeping production on par with demand and efficiency; adapting to wholesale prices and requirements; and business planning and management.
To gain perspective on this segment of Iowa's fruit and vegetable farming industry, Practical Farmers of Iowa surveyed and interviewed more than 40 farmers, buyers and food system experts for the report. The report summarizes feedback from 27 of those interviews: 15 growers and 12 wholesale buyers with experience in the local produce wholesale market.
Wholesale buyers reported challenges that included variable in-season product availability; difficulty accessing certain produce year-round in Iowa's climate; inconsistent product sizing and grading; and the need for consistent wholesale volume and ready-to-use processed local produce, among others.
Strategies to overcome these barriers include enhanced collaboration; efforts to help growers bridge the gap between retail and wholesale production abilities; eliminating variability for growers and buyers; better transportation and delivery systems; and more fruit and vegetable processing infrastructure.