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Growing Beyond Traditional Crops

Faced with tight budgets, unsteady crop prices, and urban sprawl, farmers everywhere look for ways to diversify and capture more value from their farm products.

Profit Potential

Photo by Tom Campbell

The word "organic" implies healthy to a lot of people, and that's what consumers want. It's a growing market.

Now some farmers have turned to organic agriculture to add value to their products.

"Nationwide, the market for organics is growing at 20 percent per year," said Corinne Alexander, Purdue University Extension agricultural economist. "It's the fastest-growing food area."

The New Ag Network is a collaboration of Purdue, Michigan State University, the University of Illinois, and Iowa State University. The network includes campus specialists, county Extension educators, and organic farmers. Liz Maynard, who coordinates the program for Purdue Extension, said it offers information about organic and low-input farming. Individuals from all four states record their experiences during the growing season and post those on a Web site.

"If there's a problem, we discuss it. The other producers and specialists can give you some suggestions about how to fix it," said network grower Gary Reding, Greensburg. "There's no need to reinvent the wheel."

Fresh from the Farm

Organic products aren't the only ones that bring in more money. One look at grocery store shelves and farmer's markets reveals a bevy of value-added products, like farm fresh beef and poultry, and specialty foods. Purdue Extension established the New Ventures Team to encourage rural business development and several other programs specifically to help farmers expand beyond traditional crops.

As more and more producers explore value-added enterprises, Purdue Extension is there with programs like Indiana Farm Fresh Beef, which teaches cattle producers about marketing to the public and offering a top-notch product.

Indiana Farm Fresh Beef is a value-added, direct-to-consumer marketing system.

"You can match consumers with specific animals," said Ron Lemenager, a Purdue Extension beef specialist. "It gives the consumer a contact in the beef industry. They know where their beef came from."

Beyond Tobacco

In southeastern Indiana, Purdue Extension is part of the Ways to Grow and Beyond program, which helps former tobacco farmers find new uses for their hands and land.

"Ways to Grow and Beyond focuses on helping entrepreneurs through the information gathering and planning stages of starting or expanding a business," said John Keeton, the program's field coordinator. "The purpose of the program is to create an environment for an entrepreneur to try a new venture. It doesn't have to be a crop, and you don't even have to live on a farm."

Staying Connected

"While Extension isn't just corn and cows anymore, we recognize that we've got a successful history and bright future with traditional agriculture," said David Petritz, director of Purdue Extension. "We want to offer resources and programs that our traditional audiences can use, too."