Tuesday, September 27th, 2011
By Nancy Allen
Raising specialty crops growing in popularity
  LONDON - The time is ripe for entering the specialty crop market as demand increases for fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
This type of farming also is increasingly being used as a way to bring grown children back into the family farming business, said Brad Burgefurd, an OSU Extension horticulturist.
"More families are finding they can grow pumpkins, tomatoes, melons or put up greenhouses to get them (children) into the family operation," Burgefurd said at Farm Science Review held in London last week.
Research continues to support the health and cancer fighting benefits of various berries, increasing the demand.
"Each specialty crop has its own issue so you have to do your homework," he said. "Twenty acres of grain is not a big deal but 20 acres of peppers or zucchini is."
Berries have the highest demand of any specialty crop right now.
"I've seen too many guys jump on the wagon, but the management intensiveness was overwhelming like with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries," he said. "You don't start to get major production until probably three or four years, but you're still caring for them the whole time to get them to that point."
As Ohio's wine industry also continues to grow, more farms are growing grapes, Burgefurd said. Many wineries don't have the acreage to grow grapes and are signing contracts with farmers, he said.
Burgefurd encouraged people to research a market. For example, growth in a certain ethnic population may point toward raising a particular crop, he said.
Soils also should be tested to determine which crops can and cannot be supported. Put a business plan together that addresses labor, transportation and irrigation. Also research each crop to know how often to plant and harvest.
"If you do sweet corn, you'd better be planting from March through July to have a constant supply," he said.
Dale Kaiser, who runs Kaiser Fruit Farm just west of Fort Recovery, said he did research and established contacts before starting his business.
"We started off by attending fruit growing sessions and seminars sponsored by OSU," he said. "Through that, (we) got hooked up with other folks in a growers group and got lot of information."
Kaiser first planted apples, plums and peaches in the mid 1990s before progressing to black and red raspberries. The farm has since added grapes, blackberries, hydroponic potted strawberries and sweet corn on 36 acres.
Kaiser, who has a day job selling farm equipment, said his limited acreage was better suited to growing fruits and vegetables instead of grain crops.
"As it turned out, it did provide our kids with part-time work and created some extra income to pay for their education," he said.
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