BISMARCK, ND (AP)--Most North Dakota farmers are turning their focus from the wheat harvest to late-season crops like sunflowers. Steve Knorr is moving from cabbage to onions.
Knorr, who handles vegetable production for Karlsruhe-based KIP Farms, said both of the new crops look good this year. That's exactly what organizers of the Commercial Vegetable Growers cooperative want to hear.
"Our intent is to make (crops) available to the vegetable industry, and also show to producers and economic development groups in North Dakota that it can be done commercially," said Rudy Radke, an agricultural diversification specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.
Radke also is a coordinator for the High Value Irrigated Crops Task Force, one of the groups involved with the vegetable co-op. The North Dakota Irrigation Caucus also is involved.
The co-op, which was formed late last year, brought representatives of vegetable processors, seed companies and trade publications to North Dakota last week. The purpose was to build contacts and show them the potential for a large-scale vegetable industry in North Dakota that goes beyond potatoes.
"I think most important was getting to know each other, and gaining confidence in building relationships," said Maynard Helgaas of Jamestown, the co-op's chairman. "They are the meat and potatoes of the onion and carrot business."
About 200 acres of irrigated onions and 30 acres of cabbage were grown in the state this year.
"Prior to this year, we had only one grower of onions down at Oakes, and really not much activity in cabbage at all," Radke said.
The crops will be sold to processors in Minneapolis, Chicago and on the East Coast, to be made into onion rings, chopped onions and coleslaw, he said.
The co-op also has a handful of producers growing pumpkins for a company that plans to set up displays in grocery stores.
Mike Kirby, the co-op's marketing director, said officials hope to expand onion and cabbage acreage in North Dakota next year and possibly start growing other crops such as carrots.
"On the conservative side, we're shooting for 1,000 acres" of onions, he said. "If these onions (this year) do as well as we think they are, we have the opportunity to substantially increase acres for next year.
"We see now that we're going to have the size," he said. "But there's still a critical period where we have to get the onions in the barn before we start getting hard freezes."
The co-op, which has a goal of being self-sufficient in three years, is relying in the meantime on state grants and money from economic development groups throughout the state.
Kirby said that once the co-op can survive on its own through producer fees, those groups will be asked to help move the co-op toward its long-term goal of developing a vegetable processing industry in North Dakota.
That is not an unachievable goal, despite the fact that staple crops such as wheat and oilseeds still dominate the state's agricultural industry, Knorr said.
"I've been dealing with vegetables for the last eight years," he said. "The knowledge I have gained over those years has (led) me to believe that these vegetables can grow in North Dakota. We just need to get out and do some large numbers of acres and show people we can do this."