Who can implement this: State and county lawmakers, and agricultural producers
Utah County has an ideal microclimate for many specialty crops and niche products that are in high demand. Utah growers are already successfully producing and selling specialty crops such as tart and sweet cherries, pears, apples, raspberries, peaches, tree nuts, and vegetables. Shifting from common crops like hay and alfalfa to other specialty crops could potentially allow growers to sell their yields at higher prices, improving farm revenues. High-value specialty crops that are both viable and relatively undergrown in Utah County include apricots, quinoa, lavender, pine nuts, and some herbs and vegetables.
Growers can also achieve higher revenues through value-added processing. Value-added processing refers to the on-site transformation of raw agricultural products into consumer-ready food products. Other potential ways of adding value to agricultural products involve utilizing each farmer’s unique skillset and resources to implement strategies related to processing, packaging, or marketing. Even small farms can significantly increase their revenues through value-added processing by creating unique (and more valuable) combinations of products and by-products.
A major aspect of this strategy is education-based, adding to and supplementing farmers’ existing knowledge about which specialty crops grow well in Utah, which specialty products can be processed from their raw agricultural products, which products are in local market demand, and how to change farming practices if they began to grow specialty crops in place of more common crops
Specific programs can potentially be implemented in Utah County to promote specialty-crop production or to encourage farmers to explore value-added processing as a means to introduce unique products to the local economy while increasing their own revenues.
- Utah State University should continue to work on outreach programs that explain how specialty crops and value-added processing can increase farmer’s’ agricultural revenues and add value to the local economy. In addition, the university should provide education on incentives and funding available to help farmers capitalize on these opportunities.
- It is recommended that the county work with state and national farm organizations to provide incentives and funding for farmers who are exploring the viability of specialty crops or new ways to process products. Such organizations include the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, United States Department of Agriculture, Utah Farm Bureau, etc.
- Farmers and ranchers can look into potential market niches in their local economies and evaluate whether specialty products and additional processes could be viable with their operations.
- If viable, individual farms should create strategies and secure funding to pursue specific forms of value-added agriculture, using careful planning to ensure maximum profits and minimum costs.
- The Utah Department of Agriculture should work with state legislators and farmers to develop a state-run processing facility/commercial agriculture kitchen to help farmers explore developing different kinds of agriculture products.
Rowley’s Red Barn in Santaquin, Utah, is one of the most successful examples of specialty crop growing, value-added processing, and agritourism in Utah. The Rowley family met the demands of a lucrative niche market in the agricultural economy by producing specialty crops, primarily cherries and apples. The Rowleys furthered their unique role in the local economy by utilizing value-added processing to create specialty products ranging from dried cherries to fresh ice cream.
The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food runs the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. This program awards money to projects that work solely to enhance the competitiveness of U.S.-grown specialty crops, which benefits specialty crop growers across the state and nation. The Utah Department of Agriculture is particularly interested in increasing the overall viability of specialty crops in Utah and in understanding where in Utah the climate and growing conditions could be conducive for growing them. Funds are available to state agencies, organizations, and universities.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Value Added Producer Grants program helps farmers adopt value-added activities related to processing and marketing by matching the funds of new and established farmers. These grants range in size up to $250,000 and can serve as a crucial resource for smaller producers looking to expand their agricultural operations by filling a more unique, specialized need for products in their communities.
Utah State University’s Food Quality and Entrepreneurship program, created by the school’s food product entrepreneurial specialist, provides valuable resources to producers looking to create and market new products. Resources range from informational materials to workshops and classes that all aim to remove barriers to the food industry. The program assists farmers with every step of creating value-added products, allowing them to develop their products in an incubator kitchen, providing expertise about marketing, and making information about regulation and certification more accessible. Individual entrepreneurs can schedule the program’s test kitchen at Community Action in Provo.
 Call 801-373-8200 to schedule time in the Provo test kitchen.