The Minnesota Department of Agriculture will use a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to partner with University of Minnesota Extension to educate farmers and agriculture businesses on more effectively marketing their products locally and regionally.

The USDA’s Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program awarded the MDA $235,169 to develop a plan for strengthening statewide support for small and medium-sized producers. The grant was one of six awarded across the country this year. The MDA and UMN will match the award, giving the three-year project more than $474,000.

This project will educate producers in direct-to-consumer sales such as farmers markets, you-pick and community supported agriculture. It will also help producers engage in wholesale markets to schools, grocery stores, restaurants and through distributors. The pandemic has further highlighted the need for robust local and regional food markets.

“We want to build on the partnerships we have with local and regional markets to help farmers, retailers, public institutions and consumers in Minnesota,” said Thom Petersen, Minnesota's commissioner of agriculture. “This is a real growth opportunity for our ag economy in the coming years and we need to understand how we can support it.”

The MDA will work with the UMN’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, UMN Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and the nonprofit Renewing the Countryside. The parties will gather market data and identify how the MDA’s promotion and regulation programming can best serve the needs of Minnesota’s producers that sell in local and regional markets.

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"Outside the large-volume, commodity marketing, there is much need for market information for various supply channels that support farms and food businesses in our state," said Brian Buhr, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. "We are excited for the opportunity to work with the MDA and stakeholder groups to help shape the framework to increase market transparency."

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, Minnesota has 3,500 farms that sell directly to consumers and more than 630 that sell directly to retail outlets. The sales combined generate an estimated $184 million in economic activity annually. Minnesota has 64,414 farms which gross less than $1 million annually. This represents 94% of all farms in the state, and accounts for 40% of the total value of agricultural products sold.

To learn more about the partnership and other services the MDA offers on the topic, visit https://www.mda.state.mn.us/business-dev-loans-grants/local-regional-markets.