By Brad Bergefurd
Specialty Crops Specialist
Thirty years ago, I began my Extension career as the Horticulture Extension Agent for Geauga County. Geauga county is home to a large cheese plant and up until 1992, the county’s Amish farmers produced grade-B milk for the cheese plant. In 1992, they were told that the cheese plant would no longer purchase grade B milk from the farms unless they converted their farms to grade A farms which would include the use of refrigeration and coolers in the milking parlors.
Due to religious beliefs, the Amish farmers were unable to change their dairy operations, therefore the dairy farmers decided to change occupations, and many became produce growers. In addition to teaching a community of dairy farmers how to grow produce, I was also asked to assist with the planning and building of a wholesale produce auction to develop a wholesale market for their new produce acreage. This nearby, central to the farm produce auction was a first for Ohio. So, this fresh-out-of-college Extension Agent took on a big undertaking and assisted with the development and has continued for the past 30 years.
Produce auctions are local aggregation points that facilitate small-scale fruit, flower, and vegetable farmer access to wholesale buyers from a broader geography. They are generally shareholder-owned corporations that charge a commission to the farmer to conduct the mediated transaction. Produce auctions have historically been an important market channel for fruits and vegetables in Europe and North America. The first produce auction of this type was developed by Amish and Mennonite farmers in Lancaster County Pennsylvania in 1984 and is still operating today.
In-season produce auction sales are held multiple times per week to create a consistent supply for buyers and regular market for the farmers. Buyers purchase lots from multiple farmers to fulfill wholesale demand, and then re-wholesale or retail product. Buyers make payment to the auction, which issues a single weekly payment to farmers based on combined sales minus commission. The main emphasis is on the wholesale marketing principal rather than retail, though most auctions offer small retail lots.
For Ohio, the first Ohio auction began in 1992 in Middlefield. Farmers Produce Auction in Mount Hope was the second Ohio produce auction and was established in 1994. The first auction to be built south of I-70 was the Bainbridge Produce auction in Pike County and was built in 1999. In 2022, there will be 15 wholesale produce auctions in Ohio with the new auction facility in Beaver (Pike County). In 2021, an estimated 2,000 produce farmers and buyers marketed more than $30 million dollars in locally grown produce through Ohio produce auctions, generating additional economic activity in these rural areas.
If you are interested in buying or selling produce at any of Ohio’s five produce auctions or would like more information on the Ohio produce auction industry, contact Brad Bergefurd at firstname.lastname@example.org or southcenters.osu.edu/direct-marketing/produce-auctions.