Reprinted from Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc. 89:111-115, 1976.
VEGETABLE MARKETING AND PRODUCTION IN COLUMBIA, SUWANNEE, HAMILTON AND MADISON COUNTIES ALBERT FULLER AND CHRIS 0. ANDREW The feasibility of increasing production of vegetables in
IFAS Food and Resource Economics Department, North Florida is dependent upon both production costs and
University of Florida, the ability to encourage a more efficient fresh vegetable
Gainesville, FL 32611 market system for the area from the farmers standpoint.
Cooperative packing and marketing may be one alternative Abstract. Vegetables presently produced in Columbia, to improving vegetable marketing in the area. Detailed feasiSuwannee, Hamilton and Madison counties in North Florida bility research would be necessary to determine the necesare not economically competitive with supplies from other sary scale conditions to make such a venture viable. areas. Farmers can produce enough vegetables during the present growing periods for the area to be self sufficient, The Problem and Research Procedure
yet most of the vegetables sold in the area come from ex- The areas of North and West Florida are generally less ternal supplies. Local farmers transport their vegetables out well developed economically than the rest of the state. of the area to terminal and farmers markets. Some of these Tourist business tends to by-pass these areas in favor of vegetables are in turn purchased by external suppliers and South Florida. Major industrial areas are too far from the flow back into the four county area for final consumption. study area (Columbia, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison and
Without local assembly vegetable growers must look Suwannee counties) to provide residents with industrial emprimarily to outside markets. In these markets numerous and ployment. varied growing areas are represented causing intense price Income levels are of particular concern. According to competition coupled with higher marketing costs due to the Bureau of Census definition of poverty, 13% of the location. These conditions reduce the economic viability of families in Florida are below poverty level compared to 27 7o commercial vegetable production in the four county area. in the study area (5). Nearly 75% of the population in the five county area is rural with a heavy economic dependence Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations journal Series No. 265. on agriculture. In general, there has been a decline in agriProc. Fla. State Hort. Soc. 89: 1976.
cultural production in the target area, yielding substantially decisions relative to vegetable purchases. This flexibility lower revenues when compared to the rest of the state. Be- provides an opportunity to purchase from either local or tween 1960 and 1970 the cropland harvested in Florida in- non-local sources where price, quality and quantity best creased by 19% while it decreased in the target area by 29,70 meet the independent needs.
(5). Locally grown produce is generally perceived to be fresh.
Tobacco is grown in large quantities in all of the five Seventy percent of the independent store owners felt their counties. Many tobacco producers are decreasing tobacco customers prefer locally grown produce while only 77o said
acreage and some are halting all production. This is pri- wholesale vegetables were preferred (2317o thought they were marily due to unfavorable market and price conditions, re- equally preferred, see Table 1). A few independent store source availability and increasing resource costs. The quality owners accept poor quality at normal prices because local and availability of labor has declined sharply to aggravate suppliers are often regular store customers. Some trading is the cost situation. Many growers have considered mechanical also by barter and by credit arrangements. croppers as an alternative to cope with the labor problem,
however, the high costs of mechanization have further dis- Table 1. Desirability of farm vs. wholesale fresh vegetable supplies couraged growers and contributed to production declines according to retailers.
(1, 3, 4, 6, 7).
Intensive vegetable production has been proposed as a Measure or Level of Desirability
means of improving rural employment and supplementing Desirability Local Equal Wholesale
farm income. Yet, according to the county agents for the
five counties, the decline in vegetable acreage is due to un- ----------- ----------- percent -------------------
certain marketing conditions and the indefinite growing Shelf Life 40 55 5
schedules available to farmers. Freshness 86 14 0
The results given in this paper are preliminary and based Maturity 67 29 4
on surveys administered through personal interviews with Cleanliness 24 52 24
Uniformity of Shape
area farmers, and retail store managers. For the farm survey or Size 19 38 43
a random sample of 50 farmers was taken from a population Overall Appearance 33 62 5
of a approximately 150 vegetable farmers who grow one acre Overall Quality 52 43 5
or more of vegetables. The total population of 38 retail Consumer Preference 70 23 7
stores selling significant quantities of vegetables was sur- Average of all Measures 49 40 11
veyed. Both surveys were stratified by county and the retailers were further divided into sub-strata according to Even though fresh vegetables from local farms might be
outlet type. Information was also gathered from interviews most desirable, no stores rely solely on farmers for their with county agents and various market participants. vegetable supplies. At present the farmers are unable to
The market feasibility for expanded vegetable produc- offer a constant supply and complete variety of produce on
tion in the area was the principle objective of this research. a year round basis. For this reason approximately 90% of The vegetables studied are: 1. Beans (snap, pole, butter), the smaller independent stores purchase more than 807o of 2. Southern peas, 3. Okra, 4. Eggplant, 5. Greens (collards, their produce from wholesale distributors on a regular basis. mustard, turnip), 6. Cabbage, 6. Bell peppers, 8. Tomatoes, Most of the independents try to buy as much as they can 9. Cucumbers, 10. Squash (yellow), 11. Potatoes (Sweet, from local farmers without destroying relations with their
Irish) and 12. Onions. wholesaler. Some stores, however, buy all the good quality
Vegetable production is a relatively insignificant portion produce they can handle from farmers and fill in with direct of total agricultural production in the area. Even vegetable purchases from a state farmers market which can be more farmers usually do not rely on vegetables as a major income costly and time consuming. source. Of the 150 farmers in the five counties producing Some independent stores are also serviced by cooperative
vegetables on plots of one acre or more, less than 2017o have grocers. These stores tend to rely as heavily upon the coop more than 10 acres and less than 517o exceed 50 acres. Vege- as possible and buy only the more perishable items from tables usually represent a small income supplement and less farmers such as greens and peas, as well as items to cover than 157o of the farms interviewed rely on vegetables as a shortages between orders. major source of income.
Rural Independent Grocers
Alternative Markets in the Area Rural independent stores usually do not sell fresh vegeThe more common area markets for locally grown vege- tables except for those vegetables not grown in the area.
tables are: neighborhood independent grocers, larger inde- Because most rural residents have home gardens, commercial pendents, coop chains, local farmers' curb markets and demand for vegetables is limited in rural areas. Those who
grocery chains. To a lesser extent a small quantity Of vege- do not garden obtain most of their vegetables from neightables are sold through peddling, roadside and home vege- bors, usually without charge. Excess rural supplies of vegetable stands, "pick your own" and wholesalers. Non-local tables are carried into slack periods through canning and
sales usually involve transport to state farmers markets in freezer storage. All of the 36 rural stores in the area were Thomasville, Atlanta, Macon, and Valdosta, Georgia and contacted and only one sold a significant quantity of vegeJacksonville and Tampa, Florida. tables.
Neighborhood Independent Grocers Large Independent Grocers
For growers of fresh vegetables, neighborhood inde- Larger independent stores are similar in many ways to
pendent grocers are usually accessible with more ease than the neighborhood independent stores. Two levels or more other outlets because their structure enhances direct market of management predominate but the produce manager is coordination. These stores are not part of a rigid manage- generally free to make purchases at his discretion. Produce ment and supply structure. One level of management domi- managers are, however, accountable for buying mistakes so
nates with the owner-manager free to make independent they generally purchase from established and reliable farm.112 Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc. 89: 1976.
ers. Farmers who deliver good quality on a regular basis the idea of buying from the farmer who also sells to retail during the season are desired. Individual farm sales to large customers at approximately the same price. independents usually are neither so closely linked on a regular basis nor given as much personal consideration as Outlet Comparisons with smaller independents. In comparing the common outlets for locally grown fresh
Large independents must also deal with a wholesale vegetables, the larger independent grocers are probably the supplier because farmers can not offer the quantity necessary most ideal. The average large independent purchases at in a constant supply and complete variety. However, unlike least 23% of his vegetables from farmers during the vegethe smaller store, they are able to buy a larger portion of table season and represents the largest volume outlet for their total supply from farmers because of their size. This farmers. The structure of large independents enhances their size characteristic permits large independents to maintain ability to buy large volumes from farmers. Size and volume good relations with the wholesale distributor while also enable large independents to seek a smaller profit margin purchasing larger quantities locally, than is possible for smaller independents. This enables
large independents to sell at reduced prices to stimulate Cooperative Chain Grocery Stores higher volume sales.
The coop chains behave almost identically to the smaller However ideal, no one particular type of retail outlet independents who buy through cooperative wholesale gro- can handle a volume large enough for total local produccery outlets. They try to use the services rendered by the tion. Farmers must look to all of the available outlets for coop to the fullest extent possible because the members ways of increasing quantities sold. This will require the benefit from the cooperative profits. Discounts for volume competitive position of local vegetables be increased relaper delivery are an advantage to further encourage par- tive to non-local supplies. ticipation in cooperatives. The larger coop chain stores, The primary factors (identified in the survey of rebecause of their volume, take advantage of direct price con- tailers) necessary to encourage some shift in buying to local cessions that are given to individual stores for surpassing a farmers are: uniform quality (i.e. grading), constant supply, set minimum order for any particular delivery, greater variety, and preprocessing. The first two factors were
Cooperatives also differ from the small independents in of greatest importance to the respondents (Fig. 1). There that they have more than one level of management and per- was concern for the farmers' ability to achieve the first three sonnel are accountable for bad purchase practices. They also performance criteria and still maintain prices competitive differ in that purchases from farmers are in larger volume with those of wholesalers. Approximately 14%7 of the rebecause of store size, spondents said they already bought local vegetables over
Grocery Chains 12
The grocery chain retailers are somewhat similar to the W2 cooperative chains but display the most rigid structure of all. Because they are owned by the chain stores they are Q, 10 compelled to use all of the resources of the chain before buying from farmers. Chains are able to take advantage of economies of volume in buying and thus commit their stores to selling the amount ordered in advance. Even when a 8
store can buy local produce at a substantial savings but fails Z to use the amount the chain purchased for that store, the 4chain incurs a net loss. The grocery chains are also similar 0 6 to the coop chains in that they primarily buy the highly P perishable and specialty items that their warehouse does wj not supply. They are important to local vegetable produc- .fl tion because their size permits them to buy those items on 4 37% 28% 16% 16%
a larger scale than the small independents.
Farmers' Curb Markets 211 11 1 11 1
Curb markets for local farm produce are very different from other vegetable retail outlets. The curb market consists of a group of farmers individually selling directly to consumers. The selling units (the individual farmers) areU supposed to be independent or competitive. However, the >1
market manager, in some cases, reduces internal price com- 4J~ r-. 4petition by setting price at a level that he thinks will make f-... ffr..
the market as a whole competitive with other local outlets. co P Q) '
Curb markets have also been helpful to some of the 'H
larger gardners by enabling them to sell their home surplus. 4- *H
But the market generally does not draw sufficient consumer E a
clientel to attract large vegetable farmers who are concerned 0 .a.1 Q)
with the risk of loss due to high volume perishability prob- 44 U
lems. A vicious circle emerges wherein larger numbers ofC 0 0 4
consumers are not attracted to curb markets because the QD 0 U
meay volthe ealer avietepeseyton.icotn Fig. 1. Retailers evaluation of the importance of factors affecting the
Manyof he etalershav exresed sron diconentcompetitive position of local vegetables with respect to wholesale supwith farmers for participating in curb markets. They dislike plies.
Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc. 89: 1976. 113
Cooperative Assembly since there are few examples to base scale and total feasibilThrough extending and staggering the present growing ity upon.
periods along with cooperative local assembly and handling, A problem could emerge with a cooperative effort bethe vegetable producers in the area might achieve many of cause it would require carefully trained leadership and a the necessary changes to become competitive with non-local strong willingness to cooperate by numerous growers. At supplies. Local assembly would not necessarily compete present vegetables are a relatively unimportant portion of
with present retail outlets but rather compete with non- county income in the target area. Thus, given the heavy local supplies in an effort to encourage the use of local vege- emphasis on other commodities, the necessary technical astables. Through cooperative action local farmers might sistance might not be available for such an effort within
achieve scale economies in vegetable handling. Due to the these counties. elimination of dual transportation costs to and from the outside markets and other costs associated with additional A Concluding Concern
handling in outside markets, local farmers would be better Given the optimistic idea of an organized assembly efprepared to compete on a price basis with non-local sup- fort with good patronage from the local sellers, the populaplies. tion of the area still is not large enough to consume the
Local cooperatively owned packing sheds might ac- quantity of vegetables that are produced in the area. For
complish the majority of the conditions necessary to achieve this reason it seems premature to consider increasing vegea better competitive position for local vegetables. The pack- table production based solely upon the local market. Ining shed could be a central assembly point where member ternal consumption of vegetables necessarily must be supfarmers could assemble vegetables for sale to local clientele. plemented by outside sales as a stimulus to local production. Storage and pre-processing facilities could be provided if A study currently underway at the University of Florida,
membership and volume prove sufficient to provide the IFAS determines the feasibility of increasing the producnecessary scale economies. The assembly effort might not tion of vegetables in this target area based on sales to farmcompete with present sellers but could permit them to pur- ers markets external to the area (2). These farmers markets chase local vegetables. Interest in cooperative fresh vegetable already absorb a larger portion of the total production from marketing was assessed in the farm survey. Of the farmers the target area than the local markets (Table 2 and 3). interviewed, 68 % expressed an interest in cooperating and Marketing increased production to both local and non-local would contribute money to support a workable assembly markets appears to be more feasible than relying solely upon
effort. The majority of the other 32% expressed serious the local market. doubts in the ability of local farmers to cooperate in such an effort. Table 2. Relative number of farms and shares of target area producThere is one example of a relatively successful small tion devoted to each outlet.
scale assembly and packing operation within the area. Three farmers and their families are participating in the effort. Sales of
They have a washing, grading and packing operation and Target target area
are also considering storage facilities. They currently handle; Markets area farms vegetables,
squash (butternut and straight neck), bell pepper, eggplant and sweet potatoes. These farmers are staggering their grow- Thomasville 14 42
ing schedules to provide a more stable flow of vegetables Valdosta 2 2
and allow the operation to accommodate each growers pro- Atlanta 1 0
Jacksonville 11 19
duce. Tampa 2 3
This assembly effort could cope with other factors neCeS- Total Farmers Markets
sary to sell to local stores if they were interested in selling (non-local) 30 66
locally. They are m ore interested in selling in larger vol ----------------------------------------------------------- ---------------------------------- -- ------ ---------------------
umes to the surrounding farmers markets in Thomasville, Local Curb Sales 14 7
Local Retailer Sales 11 14
Jacksonville and Tampa. They have however, contracted Local Peddling 15 6
with one of the local chain stores to sell at least one third Local Other 8 7
of their total 40 acre sweet potato crop. Another buyer has Total Local W8
agreed to buy most of the remainder. The group also cooperates in hauling and is considering processing and pack- -Percentages based on acreages harvested for sale in each outlet. ing neighboring farmers vegetables at a modest fee.
This cooperative effort could possibly be the optimum Finally, if favorable marketing conditions can be desize and type of operation required for success. It is small vcloped and implemented, vegetable production might beenough to not require rigid coordination yet the farmers come a readily available alternative to tobacco production can afford the necessary facilities for operation. Further which has suffered economic reverses. A tobacco operation research, however, in cooperative local assembly is needed can fairly easily be converted into a vegetable operation beTable 3. Fresh vegetable acreage and local and non-local market shares for the target area.
Number of Farms Selling vegetable Percent Percent
Counties Locally Non-local Both Total acres acreage/farm local non-local
Columbia 13 2 5 73 3.65 79 21
Hamilton 7 2 2 175 15.90 26 74
Madison 1 4 4 101 11.22 8 92
Suwannee 5 2 5 181 18.1 30 70
114 Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc. 89: 1976.
cause of the similarity in inputs and intensive management Resource Economics Department, Unpublished Masters Thesis.
practices used in each. Vegetables are presently being grown 3. Dukes, Neil (and other extension personnel). February 1974. Coadjaent tobaco n may frms In he bsene o an lumbia County's Long Range Agricultural Plans. University of
adaetto tbcoo mayfrsInteasce fan Florida IFAS Mimeographed copy.
adequate marketing system however, increased vegetable 4. Hamrick, Rudy. March 1974. Madison County's Long Range Agriproduction may not be economically feasible. cultural Plans. University of Florida IFAS Mimeographed copy.
5. McCloskey, E., Long and Coppedge. 1975. Summary of Census, Literture itedSocio-Economic Data for Florida by Planning District and County. Literture itedUniversity of Florida. Economic Information Report 21.
1. Andrews, Rance. March 1974. Hamilton County's Long Range 6. Morris, James B. 111. March 1974. Lafayette County's Long Range
Agricultural Program. University of Florida. IFAS Mimeographed Agricultural Plans. University of Florida IFAS Mimeographed copy.
copy. 7. Smith, W. C. Jr. and Jowers, H. E. March 1974. Suwannee County's
2. Arias, Edgar A. 1977. Wholesale Market Potentialities for Vegetables Long Range Plans, University of Florida Mimeographed copy.
Grown in North Florida. University of Florida, IFAS Food and
The publications in this collection do not reflect current scientific knowledge or recommendations. These texts represent the historic publishing record of the Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences and should be used only to trace the historic work of the Institute and its staff. Current WFAS research may be found on the Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS)
site maintained by the Florida Cooperative Extension Service.
Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University of Florida