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Identifying Illinois specialty crops

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[JAN. 30, 2004]  URBANA -- Chances are that the jar of horseradish in your refrigerator and the can of pumpkin filling in your pantry originated on farms in Illinois. In a state in which corn and soybeans take the lead, this information may come as a surprise to some people. In fact, about 50 percent of the commercial horseradish and 90 percent of the processing pumpkins in the United States are grown in Illinois. Several Illinois organizations want this and other statistics about Illinois specialty crops to be common knowledge.

"Specialty crops such as fruit, vegetables, herbs and Christmas trees are an important but often overlooked component of Illinois' agricultural economy," says Wilma Clark, chair of the Illinois Specialty Growers Association. "Demand for these crops is increasing, with opportunities for Illinois growers to capture a greater market share. But accurate information about current specialty crops production and growers' needs are necessary to help realize these opportunities."

In order to get accurate information, specialty crop growers in Illinois are being asked to complete a questionnaire about their operation. The surveys were sent out in the mail on Jan. 21. Questions on the survey include information on the number of acres, types of crops, whether the crop is sold fresh or for processing, and what its dollar value is.

"Better knowledge about the value of the state's specialty crops production will allow Illinois to receive a greater portion of federal grants for research, education and nutritional assistance," says Mohammad Babadoost, an Extension and research plant pathologist at the University of Illinois.

Babadoost says that Illinois grows at least 64 vegetable crops and 15 fruit crops commercially, but when it comes time to apply for federal grants or funding from other sources for Extension work and research on these crops, it's important to be able to document how much each crop is worth to the state and to the nation.


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Brad Schwab, state statistician for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, says, "The goal of this survey is not to identify individual producers but to give a more accurate picture of the value of specialty crops overall in the state and to improve production and marketing."

The questionnaire was developed by the University of Illinois Fruit and Vegetable Crops Task Force, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and the Illinois Department of Agriculture in cooperation with the Illinois Agricultural Statistics Service. The survey will be conducted with funding from a state grant.

Specialty crop growers who did not receive a survey are invited to obtain a copy by calling Donnie Fike or Paul Sueper at 1 (800) 622-9865.

Copies of the questionnaire will also be available at the fruit and vegetable meetings scheduled for January, February and March.

For more information, contact Mohammad Babadoost at (217) 333-1523 at babadoos@uiuc.edu.

[University of Illinois news release]

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