South Centers Synergy:Pumpkin Power

By Ivory Harlow, Ohio Cooperative Development Center Program Specialist

Pumpkins are the third largest fresh market vegetable produced in Ohio. More than 7,000 acres across the state are dedicated to pumpkin production. According to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, consumer demand for specialty pumpkins has grown steadily in recent years, and future growth is forecasted. The thriving market for pumpkins provides Ohio growers an opportunity to sell locally grown pumpkins at a premium price. 

Brad Bergefurd, horticulture specialist at the Ohio State University (OSU) South Centers, has conducted pumpkin research since 1998. His research identifies top-performing pumpkin cultivars with highly marketable traits and tolerance to plant diseases and pests. His reputation for helping farmers grow superior vegetables means Bergefurd often fields questions – from growers and buyers alike – about pumpkins, produce and fresh vegetable marketing.

In 2015, Brad received calls from regional buyers seeking pumpkins. “I was being contacted by larger buyers. I talked to local growers who I have consulted with for years and who had shared their interest in expanding to wholesale markets; but they did not have large enough acreage to do it on their own. I pitched the idea of a marketing co-op, and invited them to OSU South Centers to meet with Ohio Cooperative Development Center (OCDC) Program Manager Hannah Scott.”

A group of eight growers attended the meeting to explore how cooperatives benefit members. OCDC provided co-op education, assisted with business and financial planning, and guided the group through federal and state business filing procedures to legally form the Southern Ohio Growers Cooperative.

OSU South Centers provides comprehensive resources

The development and success of the Southern Ohio Growers Cooperative was a team effort. Several departments: horticulture, cooperatives, business and marketing, contributed to the project during start-up and continue to provide ongoing assistance.

Brad Bergefurd, whose horticulture research and connections initially brought the group together, continues to serve members with relevant pumpkin research. This year his research focuses on powdery mildew, a persistent problem for pumpkin growers in Ohio. Brad lends a helping hand to co-op members with cultivar selection, pest and disease problems control, and production questions.

The Ohio Cooperative Development Center provides ongoing technical assistance to the co-op. OCDC delivered board of director training, and helped members put a marketing agreement in place for the 2017 season. Hannah Scott assisted Southern Ohio Growers Cooperative members to develop end-of-year financial statements. “One of my proudest moments was seeing the co-op share first-year profits back with members,” Hannah Scott says. “That revenue would not have happened without the co-op.”

Chris Smalley, Small Business Development Specialist, helped the group forecast finances and production costs. Program Manager of Direct Marketing Christie Welch assisted members with their initial marketing plan, and to identify additional markets for expansion.

In 2016, Southern Ohio Growers Cooperative delivered over 500 bins of pumpkins to regional retailers. The co-op’s goals for the future include building a reputation for quality, increasing the volume of pumpkins and adding additional fresh produce offerings. OSU South Centers is here to help the Southern Ohio Growers Cooperative achieve their goals by providing comprehensive resources through collaborative partnerships.