February 27, 2018
Thanks to the booming import market, we can usually find off-season fruits and vegetables at the grocery store (berries in winter!)—but the import market can be economically detrimental to farmers. Farmers who market their products locally face undue competition from high-demand, off-season produce. But local marketing efforts, such as farmers markets and community supported agriculture, can be extremely beneficial for enhancing the rural economy and empowering agricultural producers and markets. It also provides consumers with direct knowledge of where our food is coming from− something that is not always provided at our local grocery store.
In 2016, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) conducted a Local Food Marketing Practices Survey to quantify the amount of local food sales that occur across the country. Included in the survey were sales made from farm producers directly to consumers, retailers, institutions and local food intermediaries such as wholesalers and other distributors. By looking at local marketing sales, we gain a better understanding of where farmers are marketing their products and where local marketing efforts need to be improved.
This survey is the first of its kind to provide data about local food marketing practices nationwide. In April 2016 approximately 44,000 producers across the US responded to a questionnaire sent out by the surveyors, demonstrating a 70 percent response rate. Information about the value of food sales was collected as well as farm practices and personal characteristics. The USDA compiled the results of the surveys and presented them on the Quick Stats database and in a summary format for the whole nation, by state and region. In total, farmers across the US sold about $8.7 billion in direct farm sales to consumers, retailers, institutions, and distributors. About 39 percent of sales were made to institutions and intermediate distributors and 35 percent of sales were made directly to consumers through a variety of channels such as farmers markets and farm stands. Five major regions across the country are covered in the report, including the Northeast and Southeast.
Interesting Finding No. 1
The Northeast region sells significantly more produce than the Southeast region.
Earning $1.9 billion, the Northeast out-competed the Southeast region’s commodity total sales ($957 million) despite having (1) fewer sales outlets and (2) only one third of the cropland as the Southeast. It would be interesting to explore why the Northeast has higher sales in all categories when the number of operations in the region is lower than in the Southeast.
Interesting Finding No. 2
The Chesapeake Bay is pioneering the way in local marketing.
The Chesapeake Bay, one of the most valuable water resources and foodsheds in the Chesapeake region, consists of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
Pennsylvania and Virginia have the most acreage in farmland in the Chesapeake region so it is no surprise they led the way in sales. Pennsylvania was the top selling state in the Chesapeake with $439 million dollars in direct farm sales and Number 4 top selling state in the US. Virginia wasn’t far behind with $217 million dollars. In comparison, Maryland produced and sold about $84 million in direct farm sales.
The USDA Local Marketing Surveys made their data accessible to anyone who is interested in learning more about local agriculture. These surveys are also a useful tool for users who want information about how states and regions can grow their local marketing sales. Whichever part of the US you are from, you can find information about your state or regions local marketing sales and even compare them to other areas in the country to get a better idea of the relationship between farmers and consumers in your area.