Long before the advent of the corner coffeeshop, farmers were swapping ideas about crop management and markets. What is changing is the way they get together.
Missouri Extension agronomist Shawn Conley has developed Mizzou Crop Forum, an online site where producers of alternative grains can exchange information about how to grow them and where to sell them.
“It actually started a year or so ago, when I was talking to producers and regional agronomists about what we can do to increase alternative crop acreage,” Conley said. “A lot of farmers have been planting nothing but corn and soybeans for a while, so the management is a little different. But I found out the challenge isn't really production; it's facilitating communication between growers and potential markets.”
For example, he said, “there are several bakeries in Kansas City that have a use for grain amaranth, buckwheat and some of the soft white wheats. They have to import these grains from places like North Dakota. This way, we can ask them whether they'd like to buy a product that's locally produced.”
Not only are there savings in transportation costs, Conley said, but locally grown food enjoys a high reputation with consumers that explains its marketing cachet with grocers, restaurateurs and wholesalers.
Mizzou Crop Forum, at www.psu.missouri.edu/forums, also features a search function so users can type in a subject like “sunflowers” and get information about buyers, sellers and production methods.
Existing alternative crop producers in Missouri “are a relatively tight-knit group,” Conley said. “We think this site will help people who have had this idea in the back of their minds, but just haven't gotten connected with it.
“It will mostly be about alternative or organic grain production and marketing, but we're certainly not going to limit it.”
Missouri's environmental diversity, he said, “means we can grow about anything here, from corn and soybeans to cotton and rice. Southwest Missouri has a climate that might be favorable for growing some white wheat varieties. In the north, we have cooler nights where we can grow crops that don't do as well in the constant heat.”
“Being able to produce isn't the issue,” Conley said. “What we need, and what we're trying to do, is to raise the awareness that these alternatives are available.”
Forrest Rose is an Extension and ag information specialist with the University of Missouri.