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O'Dell, C.R., S.B. Sterrett, B.M. Young, and A.M. Borowski. 1990. Evaluating production potentials and developing extension recommendations for new vegetable crops. p. 57-61. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), Advances in new crops. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

Evaluating Production Potentials and Developing Extension Recommendations for New Vegetable Crops*

Charles R. O'Dell, Susan B. Sterrett, Barbara M. Young, and Alicia M. Borowski

    1. New Crops Exploration Teams
    2. Commodity Overview and Field Research
    3. Chronological Elements of the New Crops Exploration Production Study (Fig. 1)
    4. The Production Analysis Checklist
    5. Production Budget Format and Its Generation
  6. Table 1
  7. Fig. 1


Vegetable cultivars and cultural practices often exhibit a narrow region of optimum performance compared to animal and agronomic enterprises. In the past, extension workers and growers have struggled with the introduction of new horticultural crops because they did not have sound extension recommendations based on prior local research. The purpose of this paper is to outline a workable standard procedure and checklist to determine the potential success of new horticultural industries, and to present a plan to determine and solve major potential production problems prior to first commercial production attempts. Emphasis is placed on reducing grower risks by satisfying new crop production research needs for local conditions before growers attempt pilot production.

The Virginia Farmers' Market Board was funded and authorized by 1988 legislative budget approval to implement and administer a network of farmers markets and wholesale shipping point markets across the state to offer expanded horticultural production opportunities. Publications were developed to help producers and marketing organizations make decisions concerning trying new crops, and to improve the initial production ability or profitability with new crops (O'Dell 1986, O'Dell et al. 1987, Runyan 1986). The production methodology presented herein is compatible with but does not substitute for equally important new crop economic feasibility studies including market-window analyses and the discovery and development of new crop market niches.


In 1983, a group of Piedmont Virginia tobacco farmers interested in agricultural diversification, assisted by Extension and U.S. Department of Agriculture workers, decided to begin production/marketing of fall broccoli, a new crop in Virginia. A well-conceived marketing plan was implemented, but little or no prior broccoli production research had been conducted in Virginia or the mid-Atlantic region with the exception of cultivar trials conducted at the Virginia Tech Horticulture Research Farm near Blacksburg on heavier clay soil types in a mountain climate and at the Tidewater Agricultural Experiment Station on lighter sandy soils in a coastal climate. When Extension workers recommended a cultivar that had performed well at both the above research sites, it proved, at growers' expense, to be a very poor choice for Piedmont Virginia. Similarly, some cultural recommendations adopted by supposition from major far-west production areas of the U.S. also produced poor results. In 1985, locally-based on-site research with outside grant funds was initiated in desperation to reduce growers' risks and improve profits with broccoli. Many growers gave up on this new crop because of poor yields in the period of 1983-1986. Many innovative growers were lost, credibility of the Extension Service and Virginia's land-grant universities was jeopardized, and very little was gained from this production-before-research approach.

In contrast, the assimilation and demonstration of on-site adaptive field research from 1985-1988 has greatly improved grower profits and 'turned around' the poor production records of earlier years. Determination of correct planting dates based on local historical weather data avoided late-season freezes that had destroyed much of earlier years' fall broccoli crops. Establishment of correct fertilizer application rates for area soils improved yields and quality while reducing fertilizer costs, leaching losses, and residual or "carryover" nitrogen levels for tobacco and other crops in rotation. Better stand establishment with fewer irrigations was achieved by modifying seeding depth based on local research results. In addition, heat-tolerant cultivars adapted to Piedmont Virginia conditions were identified from locally conducted trials. Now, with accurate horticultural information this new crop industry is positioned for growth whenever area economic conditions warrant diversification.


New Crops Exploration Teams

Two new crops exploration teams are needed, a crop production team and a marketing team. The crop production team of multidisciplinary talents should include research/extension workers in the fields of horticulture, agricultural engineering and food science and technology as well as pest management specialists in the fields of entomology, plant pathology, and weed science. The marketing team should consist of research and extension workers in the Agricultural Economics Departments of land-grant universities, specialists in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Virginia departments of agriculture. This market development team win evaluate the economic and market potentials of targeted enterprises and develop a standard procedure and checklist for economic analyses. Close cooperation between these teams, along with critical input from growers, is essential for effectiveness of this new methodology.

Production and marketing teams construct a priority list of potential new enterprises that appear worthy of research and developing for the university administrations, departments of agriculture, and other participating agency administrations. These new-crop exploration/development teams need to be planned for multi-year research and extension demonstration thrusts. The long-range plan should be continued to include enterprise demonstrations with targeted farm families and the production/marketing pilot project efforts. Data collection on these initial commercial areas provides information for developing realistic production cost budgets based on actual production practices.

Commodity Overview and Field Research

A study of targeted commodity production potentials should involve a detailed evaluation of production methods and production costs in major producing regions; and an analysis of all data and acquired information to help minimize time and money spent on field tests. All considerations in the overview are designed to act as a further screening process for potential new crops.

The new-crop exploration production committee must gather production data including latest cultural practices in use or cultural recommendations from all the known worldwide areas producing the targeted crop. This team must reduce such information to a reasonable production system suitable to adaptive testing under area conditions.

These recommendations would then be evaluated in test plots for a minimum of 2 years for their area adaptability and adjusted to maximize production opportunities. Equipment and seed/plant requirements/availability also should be evaluated in this phase. As part of this study, members of the extension/research production team and representative growers should travel to major production regions of the targeted crop for first-hand technology-transfer-information and to gain further ideas for adapting the potential crop to local conditions.

Both an Integrated Pest Management System (IPM) and crop insurance potentials should be investigated for the targeted commodity beginning during its initial research testing phase. Providing such support through interagency cooperative efforts is vital for faster grower enterprise adoption through risk reduction if field testing and economic analyses team results show commercial promise.

Chronological Elements of the New Crops Exploration Production Study (Fig. 1)

The Production Analysis Checklist

The production team must determine for each potential new crop whether technologies being developed could enhance our state or regional competitive position relative to competing areas of production. These and other considerations are developed into a checklist and should include the following:

Production Budget Format and Its Generation

The production cost numbers generated by the production research team need to be organized to facilitate accurate comparison and analysis. From actual locally-based costs of production and marketing under area conditions, a comparative budget can be developed to evaluate production costs against those of distant producing areas. This will further help to determine production feasibility and potential market share competitiveness. A sample budget format is provided in Table 1.


What are the benefits of following this procedure in the course of assisting with the development of a new crop industry in your county, area, state, or region? The innovative growers will have the necessary facts pertinent to their area for correct production practices, cultivars, planting and harvesting dates, management an labor needs, and equipment needed, including irrigation, to increase the probability of financial success in their initial production efforts.

These first efforts are always closely watched by neighboring farm families who are wondering whether they too should try the new crop. If these first new crop growers are financially successful, the new industry will grow and succeed. If they stumble and fall in yield and quality, and therefore in profitability, the new crop industry will stall or eventually fail.

Successful initial production efforts result in higher initial volumes of high quality marketable products. Only volume and high quality products attract buyers and maintain buyers' commitment and loyalty to the growers' new production/marketing organization.

By reducing grower risk through prior information, potential production of a new crop is improved while economic and rural community stability is maintained and enhanced rather than jeopardized by the introduction of a new-crop industry. The Cooperative Extension Service and its supporting land-grant universities and the United States Department of Agriculture, as well as cooperating agencies assisting new-crop industry development, also receive favorable community, area, state, and regional good will in the public eye. Success breeds success, opening the way for additional new industry efforts, building on the confidence from this "we can do it" experience.


*We thank research coworkers Ron Morse and Dave Vaughan; extension coworkers Charlie Coale, Joel Plath, Larry McPeters, Bobby Stump, Henry Maxey, Dick White and Phil Ramsey; vegetable growers Bobby and Lucy Conner, Hudson and Pat Reese; Mr. Stan Duffer, VDACS; and Dr. Hal Ricker, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, for helpful assistance as reviewers of this publication. Thanks also to George Criner, Duane Smith, Cathy Sage and Ralph Weeb 11, Maine Cooperative Extension Service Agricultural Economists, for permission to use portions of their C.E.S. Misc. Pub. 688.

Table 1. A sample budget format.

Budget Competing
Estimate for area
being considered
Costs: (per acre or other relevant unit)
___________________ $$
___________________ ____________
___________________ ____________
___________________ ____________
___________________ ____________
___________________ ____________
___________________ ____________
___________________ ____________
___________________ ____________
Sub total ____________
Inspection and grading__________________
Cold storage__________________
Brokers fees__________________
Sub total__________________
Interest on operating capital ____________
Marketable yield per acre____________
Per unit total cost____________
Cost per market unit____________
Average price/market unit over marketing period____________
Potential gain (loss) per unit____________
zMore columns may be needed depending on the number of areas that are significant producers.

Fig. 1. Chronological flow of elements of new crops production study.

Last update August 26, 1997 by aw