What can you tell me about direct marketing specialty melons?
Answer: For the direct-market producer, shipping melons is probably not a good bet, as per-unit costs of production make them uncompetitive in price in small quantities. This condition, of course, is shared by producers of all stripe. It’s hard for a farmer with a few acres, for example, to compete in price with someone who grows produce by the mile.To compensate for this, direct-market producers must rely on market strategy to increase competitiveness. Specialty melons offer an avenue to compete on the turf of large-scale melon producers. If you look in any major seed-supply catalogue, you will see an assortment of melons. Naturally, the major varieties are offered?and are perfectly suited for the hobbyist wishing to grow his or her own cantaloupes or honeydews to be plucked vine-ripe from the garden, at the epitome of taste, as opposed to shipped not fully ripe days or weeks beforehand. However, to be competitive in the market, growers should seek out niches to serve. Niche markets can be accessed through a variety of means, such as farmers markets, ethnic and conventional markets, roadside sales, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).Farmers markets have been steadily gaining in popularity. The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service reports that there was a 3.6% rise in the number of farmers markets from 2012 to 2014. This number is expected to continue to rise as more people start to value the benefits of local food. Farmers markets allow producers to meet with local people and build relationships with their consumers, an option not afforded in other venues.Ethnic groceries help both recent immigrants and farmers. Many immigrants find themselves separated from the foods of their homelands. This demand becomes an opportunity for local farmers to market the vegetables, fruits, and herbs that are adaptable to their region to newcomers. It may be difficult for a local producer to sell produce directly to the people who would most benefit from it; thus, a middleman of the same culture becomes prudent. Ethnic grocery stores then become an outlet for farmers to reach audiences they didn’t have access to before. It can be particularly advantageous for farmers to time their harvests for a specific event of their target audience.Some conventional grocery stores will purchase produce directly from producers.This gives the farmer a dedicated buyer for his or her crop and allows the store to brand itself as supportive of the local food movement.This option tends to be less attractive to farmers, as the other options usually are more profitable and less troublesome with regard to the amount of paperwork required of the farmer.Roadside sales are another direct-marketing stratagem for producers. Farmers markets tend to have an array of many types of vendors, whereas roadside stands are a stand-alone operation.These tend to attract fewer customers, with the customers spaced over a longer period of time. These stands tend to be seasonal in nature, according to the harvest. Many factors play a part in the success of roadside stands. For example, a farm stand between Hempstead and Brenham, Texas, in the spring when the bluebonnets are flowering would have many customers who were interested in stopping on that stretch of road anyway. Differentiate that from travelers heading from Houston to Galveston, Texas, who have no intention of stopping for any reason.Other marketing options are available to specialty melon growers. CSAs are still developing and evolving. The original concept was for the subscriber to pay at the beginning of the sea-son for a share of the produce a particular farm produced throughout that season. This model is adapting due to market forces and competition. Nevertheless, it is still an option for producers to supply their customers with high-quality produce. Home-delivery services have also arisen in the past few years as a viable outlet for producers to sell their products.To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Specialty Melon Production for Small and Direct-Market Growers, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=492. This publication provides an overview of production and marketing of numerous different species and varieties of specialty melons. It addresses production considerations including seed sources, planting needs, soil preparation, and insect pest and disease control. It also discusses marketing outlets for producers to sell their melons and summarizes results of current melon research. A resource list details sources for more information, seeds, and supplies useful for melon growing.