In other parts of the country the “U-pick” farm industry has grown incredibly over the past 20 to 30 years. Some people like the experience of going to pick fruit as a family, and making memories out of a simple and fulfilling work experience.
In our area the U-pick business model has not taken hold as feverishly as it has in other areas. It has opportunity here, but there are many factors of why it hasn’t taken hold. Some reasons include people think they are too busy, or they can buy the same 20 pounds of strawberries cheaply at a roadside stand. Or (my favorite reason) the consumer wonders why you would do the back-breaking work of picking the fruit and pay someone for the opportunity to do that extra work, instead of buying it with your other groceries at about the same cost at the store.
This is where the main issues are mostly rooted for small-acreage businesses who want get started doing U-pick. They struggle being profitable as they try to compete with the simplicity of buying your strawberries, raspberries or pumpkins at a grocery store. To overcome this, one needs to market the positive, memory-making experience one can have if they pick the fruit themselves or the monetary savings if they do the harvesting rather than buying it at the store.
People like to save on food, so if you start a U-pick business selling raspberries you would need to look at your costs to see if the profit margin is even there. Another approach is you should differentiate your business and product from the typical produce you can find anywhere else. That could be growing a specific variety of raspberry you would never find in the stores. For example, there is a purple raspberry variety named “Royalty,” that has many good eating and canning characteristics. And, it’s purple, so that makes it unique from your typical red raspberry. So for an idea, someone could plant a small acreage into this variety of raspberry, and then advertise that you have a U-pick purple raspberry patch, and that they can pick the unique Royalty purple raspberry, which is hard to find. You need to do your research ahead of time to ensure you have a unique niche market product that people can’t find somewhere else.
Some of the challenges that come with U-pick businesses are that by nature they are cyclical, meaning that your fruit will be on and ready for only a couple months of the year, and that makes for a short sales time period.
In addition, you will be having the public on your property, and you are selling food products.
Both of these things require you to have liability insurance to protect you against injury or harm that may occur while they are there or from consuming the products. And with all businesses there is compliance with local ordinances and state laws regarding the selling of fruit or food products and collecting taxes. The laws, rules, and guidelines vary depending on the type and size of the business and what you are producing and selling, but jumping through these hoops isn’t normally too hard and people consider it a part of doing any regular business.
Due to our climate in eastern Idaho and short growing season, we have a smaller time window to grow products and get them to market. The competition from other produce sources around the state such as the Boise area, tend to meet the fever rush that people have for a new “in season” product earlier than we can. Once the “fever rush” for a new product such as sweet corn or berries has been met, then local producers have a hard time selling produce since the demand kind of loses potency.
Once again creating your own niche market can possibly reduce competition and help to buffer the effects of other producers from around the state.
Lance Ellis is the University of Idaho Extension educator for Fremont County. He can be reached at 208-624-3102.