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Tips on Choosing Specialty Crop Varieties that Sell

Members of the first class of Michigan GROWN Michigan GREAT Ambassadors will engage with consumers on issues involving agriculture at farm markets such as this one at Detroit’s Eastern Market, the largest historic public market district in the United States. Photo, Michigan Farm News

There are hundreds of varieties of specialty crops to grow. But how do you know which varieties to choose? During the Great Lakes Expo, Dr. Ron Goldy of Michigan State University Extension said that just because you grow a particular specialty crop, it doesn’t mean that’s what your customers will want.

As you’re making your spring planting plans, Goldy has few things to consider.

“The first thing you really want to look at and determine is what is your market or who is your market,” he said. “Are you selling wholesale through a broker, direct to restaurants, drive-by customers or other ways you’re going directly to them. [For example] setting up a booth at a farmers market and selling there.”

The second thing is identifying who your customers are and some demographic information.

“Find out their ethnicity, education level, income, age, and family size,” said Goldy. “Some of these things will go together. These could all go into playing a part how you select a certain variety to grow.”

Goldy added that if you’re marketing near a city with a higher education institution, there’s going to be a couple of those factors that come into play.

“You’re going to have a fair amount of well-traveled people,” he said. “You can offer some of these things that could be different than what your less-traveled people might want—those that just buy their food at a local supermarket. Knowing what your market wants helps you decide what you’re going to grow.”

Growers also want to look at pest and disease resistance in their varieties, as well as intended use.

“Is it going to be used for processing or sold for fresh because that does make a difference,” Goldy said.

The final thing specialty crop growers should keep in mind when choosing varieties is how adaptable they are to conditions. Some things to consider are soil temperature and day length.

To help guide your decision making, check out the Midwest Vegetable Variety Trial Report.