Some Iowa Farmers Planting Specialty Crops Instead of Corn and Soybeans

Christopher Doering reported in Sunday’s Des Moines Register Online that, “During the Agriculture Department’s census released in 2012, the federal government estimated that more than 47,000 Iowa farms had corn and 41,000 had soybeans. Together, the two commodities were grown on 23 million acres.

“By comparison, 962 farms raised vegetables spread across 7,700 acres, and even fewer produced fruits, according to the most recent data for the specialty crops.

“To be sure, fruit and vegetable crops are unlikely to ever overtake corn, soybeans, eggs, hogs and even ethanol in the state.”

The Register article pointed out that, “Still, for farmers such as [Greg Rinehart, who farms 55 miles northwest of Des Moines], the chance to diversify their crop mix, receive more income and avoid the price volatility that has squeezed profitability recently for corn and soybean producers can be enticing.

“‘It’s a huge difference on prices,’ said Rinehart, who had expanded his operation to grow an estimated 40 kinds of fruits and vegetables, along with conventional corn and soybeans. ‘We’re doing it for business. We don’t want to lose money. That’s why we’ve expanded the vegetable end of it, because you can kind of see what sells well, and those prices don’t drop like commodity prices.’

“Eric Franzenburg, president of the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said produce production in the state is increasing, in large part because of growing participation by younger farmers just starting out in agriculture.”

Mr. Doering added that, “Farmers who decide to grow produce and do so profitably tend to cluster near metropolitan areas where they can easily transport their food to farmers markets, grocery stores and restaurants.

“‘In and around the Des Moines area there are a wide range of producers that are producing specifically for that Des Moines metropolitan market and, of course, many of them can make a decent living,’ [Iowa State University economist David Swenson] said. ‘But you get out into the more rural areas of the state and you can’t do that. You’re not going to have the local demand.’

“In Iowa, there are opportunities for more producers to enhance farm household income by growing fruits and vegetables, ‘but not many,’ he said.”

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