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Truck crops benefit producers, consumers
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Increased consumer interest is positively impacting producers of Mississippi’s truck crops, which include fruits, vegetables, nuts and flowers.
Rick Snyder, vegetable specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the rapid growth of the local foods movement has increased demand for truck crops.
“With farmers’ markets in nearly every county of Mississippi, producers no longer have to travel far to find an outlet for their produce,” Snyder said. “Some growers sell at two, three or more markets each week.
“For the growers, farmers’ market prices are higher than selling wholesale. However, farmers’ market prices are usually still lower than in grocery stores, so the consumers get a good deal. Plus, fruits and vegetables are almost always fresher because locally grown produce is usually harvested just before coming into the markets,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recorded 28 registered farmers’ markets in 2007, Ken Hood, agricultural economist with the MSU Extension Service, said.
“This year there are 61, twice the number of markets four years ago,” Hood said. “This increase is directly related to the local foods movement, and it has increased the number of truck crops farmers.
“We’ve seen several new farmers come on line, doing this on a part-time basis and selling locally to restaurants and at farmers’ markets to have extra income. Clientele are asking for local produce, so there is a need,” he said.
Truck crops account for about 2 percent of Mississippi’s agricultural production value, so compared to forestry and poultry, truck crops are a small part of the industry, said Hood.
“That said, they are very important to our local growers,” he said. “Some grow truck crops commercially, but for most it’s an alternative income source. The production value is $104 million, with sweet potatoes accounting for roughly 50 percent of that.”
Blueberries are the biggest fruit crop in the state, and other common crops are tomatoes, greens, southern peas, sweet corn and watermelons.
“Most of our commercial vegetable producers focus on spring and summer production of vegetables,” Snyder said. “Growers try to plant as early as possible to get an earlier harvest, which is generally higher value. There are opportunities for fall production of some vegetables in Mississippi.”
Some growers are experimenting with a new trend, the use of high tunnels.
“These plastic-covered frames, which resemble greenhouses but lack heaters or fans, allow producers to extend the growing season a few weeks earlier in the spring or later in the fall,” Snyder said. “Extra early harvest in the spring brings in more dollars, as does late fall harvest, as it allows sales during periods when field producers do not have the same crops to sell.”
The high tunnels may also help offset weather problems.
“This was a tough year for many of our vegetable growers,” Snyder said. “The super dry spring and summer and extremely high temperatures made 2011 a challenging year.”
At MSU’s Truck Crops Experiment Station in Crystal Springs, where Snyder works, applied field research in all areas of horticulture is under way, as are preparations for the Fall Flower & Garden Fest. The event is both an open house and an outreach event, promoting Mississippi’s fruits and vegetables for home gardeners and truck crop producers.
Seeding vegetables in the greenhouse starts in June, and seeding and transplanting to the garden begins in July. Every week certain plants are put into the garden based on their days to maturity.
“We have a complex planting schedule because we need each flower, herb and vegetable to be at its peak during the Fest, which is Oct. 21 and 22 this year,” Snyder said.
Festival attendees can explore the 3-acre garden, attend garden seminars, view exhibits and more.
See MSU Extension Publication M2027 for more information.