Humphrey School News—June 27, 2016

Humphrey Alumnus Helping Small Vegetable Farmers Become More Profitable

Vegetable growers are at the forefront of the local food movement—through farmers markets, CSAs, and farm-to-table initiatives at restaurants. And although small vegetable farms may be few in number, they are essential in rural “food deserts” and have a critical impact in their local economies.

Until recently, the finances behind these operations remained a mystery, but Humphrey School of Public Affairs alumnus Ryan Pesch is doing his best to change that. Pesch (MURP ’02), a community educator with the University of Minnesota Extension, has discovered that small vegetable farm producers do about $10,000 per acre in sales. But after marketing and other expenses, their net profit is less than half of that. 

“This study is a concerted effort to learn about the profitability of mixed vegetable operations in the state,” he says. “We have lots of data about dairy operations and corn and soybean operations; however, we had little data in the state about small vegetable farms.” 

Thanks to the sharing of this information, vegetable operators will become “smarter and more strategic about how they manage their business and market their crops,” says Pesch, who leads a team of Extension educators in this effort. “Our research helps existing operators identify where they could be more profitable, and gives basic numbers to help new, young farmers enter the market.”

Pesch's study is one way that his work at Extension makes research data tangible and useful to farmers in their daily lives.

And Pesch thrives on being a conduit for so many individuals, companies, and ideas. “I love being the go-between, not only between campus and community—as we often do in Extension—but also between individual operators, businesses, and community leaders,” he says.

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