A grant from the US Department of Agriculture will help the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and partners at the University of Minnesota (UMN) engage farmers and agriculture businesses in marketing their products more effectively both locally and regionally.
The USDA’s Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program awarded the MDA $235,169 to develop a roadmap for strengthening statewide support for small- and medium-sized agricultural producers in Minnesota, one of only six such grants awarded nationally this year.
This project will engage producers in direct-to-consumer sales, like farmers markets, U-Pick, and CSAs, as well as those engaged in wholesale markets, such as selling to schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and through distributors. The MDA and UMN will match the award, providing a total of more than $474,000 for the three-year project.
“We want to build on the partnerships we have with local and regional markets to help farmers, retailers, public institutions and consumers in Minnesota,” Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said. “This is a real growth opportunity for our ag economy in the coming years and we need to understand how we can support it.”
The MDA will work with the UMN’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, UMN Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships, and the nonprofit Renewing the Countryside to gather currently uncollected market data and identify how the MDA’s promotion and regulation programming can best serve the needs of Minnesota’s producers that sell in local and regional markets.
“Outside the large-volume, commodity marketing, there is much need for market information (price and volume) for various supply channels that support farms and food businesses in our state. We are excited for the opportunity to work with the MDA and stakeholder groups to help shape the framework to increase market transparency,” said Brian Buhr, Dean of CFANS.
According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, Minnesota about 3,500 farms that sell directly to consumers, while more than 630 sell directly to retail outlets like grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and other institutions. These sales generate an estimated $184 million in economic activity each year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for robust local and regional food markets. Minnesota has 64,414 farms which gross less than $1 million annually. This represents 94% of all farms in the state, and accounts for 40% of the total value of agricultural products sold.
The partnership will work to provide reliable and consistent market information at the state level through a UMN-led information-gathering process. The MDA’s Produce Safety Program and Minnesota Grown marketing program will contribute expertise and examine current branding and licensing efforts and produce regulations as part of the process.
More than 40 cooperative partner organizations representing our state’s vibrant local and regional food systems will participate in the project.