New Online Tool Helps Users Explore Potential Markets

If you are a farmer, the age-old question of “how much of a market is there?” has plagued you forever.  A new tool may help Iowa farmers answer that question, at least if they grow fruit and vegetable crops.

 

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Iowa State’s Transportation Research Institute have teamed up to create the web-based Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Market Planner. The application, and a link to a user’s guide, is at: www.intrans.iastate.edu/marketplanner/

 

The Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Market Planner shows rates of demand for 80 different crops. Users can target specific regions, consumers by age group, different time frames and product mixes – from fresh off-the-farm produce to demand for canned, dried or frozen products. All results are shown in retail weight, which takes into account spoilage and processing losses that occur after a crop leaves the farm.

 

“We wanted the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Market Planner to be flexible, so that farmers could look at their marketing territory, even if it extended outside Iowa because markets transcend state boundaries,” said Leopold Center Associate Director Rich Pirog, who worked closely with engineer Randy Boeckenstedt at the Institute for Transportation to develop the application.

 

Users of the tool select crops and a central location (such as a farm or business) for the target market, choosing from all incorporated communities in Iowa. They also determine the driving distance from this location to include in the target market, with or without areas in adjoining states.

 

The tool calculates a rate of demand for each crop the farmer selects, based on food availability data reported each year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, and U.S. Census data for consumers in the target market. Target market demand can be compared with state-level production (or supply) of a crop to see where the greatest opportunities exist for farmers.

 

An early version of the tool, the Iowa Produce Market Potential Calculator created in late 2005, included only 37 crops, county-level data for supply and demand, and no regions outside Iowa.

 

Pirog said the utility of the new tool will extend beyond farmers. “We think the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Market Planner will be used by local food groups and county and city governments as they develop planning strategies to increase local food commerce,” he said.

 

Additional adjustments can be made for age of the consumer, from elementary school-age to retirees, with rates of demand calculated according to population differences for each age group in each area. “We think this option will be very helpful for farm to school groups, and groups working on food and nutrition programs for the young or elderly so they can better assess their population’s needs,” Pirog added.

 

Results can be shown based on a 10-month school year, a 20-week growing season, a three-month growing season or any time period from one day to a year. Demand can be shown in many units of measurement – from the number of acres required to grow a crop, cubic feet or storage space needed, 20-ton truck loads of the crop, or servings.

 

Pirog and Boeckenstedt have anticipated interest from other parts of the country about this new tool. They are working on a technical guide that explains how to set up a similar application for other states and regions, to be available later this year.

 

Pirog strongly recommends that people first review a brief user’s guide before doing their own calculations on the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Market Planner.

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