Sunday November 23, 2014

Co-operative approach has niche market value

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Something occurred this year in Saskatchewan which most people will know nothing about and yet in terms of food production it holds some definite significance.

In April, 16 Saskatchewan vegetable producers formed the Prairie Fresh Food Corporation.

The new organization has defined zones within the province and began coordinating production of a variety of vegetables from radishes to carrots, zucchini and sweet corn.

The goal of more controlled production within the group is to ensure a steadier supply of product through the growing season, and in turn help secure local markets by offering an assured supply over a longer period of time.

It is an idea which is actually long overdue if the long term goal is to create a larger domestic market and thereby increase the annual production of vegetables within the province.

In this era most food stores are part of larger chains, and chains work on the premise their food aisles are mirror images of one another.

They also, in large part, want customers to be able to arrive at the store seven days a week, 12-months a year, and be able to purchase the same thing.

And therein lies an obstacle for Saskatchewan producers in areas such as vegetable and fruit production.

Producers can produce in the summer months, but often all the carrots produced are in a limited timeframe, meaning serving a large store’s continuing needs are difficult.

A ‘team’ approach to production can expand the supply and open markets.

The efforts of the Saskatchewan vegetable producers are something other food production sectors should certainly be looking to mimic.

A group approach to fruit production could achieve access to additional markets, or make processing, such as jams, syrups and even wines more viable, on a larger, more broadly marketable scale.

It is the same approach some livestock sectors need to work on.

There is a growing ethnic community in Saskatchewan, and they have different tastes, with many putting goat and lamb ahead of beef and chicken.

But they want to eat chevron (goat) year round, and again production here is generally confined to spring-based production. To serve the new market, production needs to be more year-round.

The sheep sector has faced the same dilemma for years.

Producers coming together to manage production on a Saskatchewan-wide basis is the most logical way to deal with the market need. It does require co-operation among producers, but it is the most logical path to explore to create better market access for all.

In a world where a segment of consumers is increasingly concerned with the impact their food eating decisions have on the environment, and so look to options such as the 100-mile diet (food produced within 100-miles), Saskatchewan farmers have new opportunities cropping up.

It is up to them to work together to further develop and fully serve the new markets, and by so doing diversifying Saskatchewan agriculture, and increasing the bottom line on individual farms.

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