Consumers Driving Changes in Agriculture Production and Marketing

By Robert Burns, assistant dean, UT Extension

The way that food is produced and marketed is undergoing significant changes in the United States. The demand for foods that consumers identify as “local,” “fresh,” or “organic” has significantly increased over the past five years in the United States. Consumers’ preferences have changed as their lifestyles have changed in response to ever increasing information that indicates diet plays a critical role in human health. Changes in the way vegetables, fruit, and meat are produced and sold reflect these changes in consumer demand, and Tennessee is leading the nation in some of these transformations.

For example, Tennessee experienced a 135 percent increase in the number of farmers markets from 2006 to 2014. While the number of farmers markets in the United States grew by only 1.5 percent during the past year, Tennessee lead the nation with a 20 percent increase in the number of farmers markets from 2013 to 2014. Tennessee also had a 37 percent increase in the number of farms with direct sales to consumers between 1997 and 2012, and a 129 percent increase in the value of Tennessee products sold directly to consumers. The increase in direct farm sales and higher product values are not surprising given the large amount of growth in farmers markets across the state.

While consumer demand and preference have certainly driven changes in food production and marketing in Tennessee, the UT Institute of Agriculture has played a vital role in these changes, as well. Extension’s programs in Family and Consumer Sciences and 4-H have put a strong emphasis on educating adult and youth audiences on how wise lifestyle choices and eating habits will change their lives, their health, and how they feel. Through educational programs such as Tennessee Shapes Up, Healthy Lifestyles, 4-H Health Rocks!, and many others, Tennessee Extension professionals made more than 900,000 direct contacts with Tennesseans in 2013 that educated consumers about healthier living and eating habits.

An increase in consumer demand for fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats is only half of the story, though. Someone has to grow and market the food that consumers demand. The Institute has educated and prepared producers to manage the changes in food production and marketing needed to meet consumer demand. Extension educational programs offered by the Center for Profitable Agriculture, such as the Farmers Market Boot Camp workshops, Direct Farm Marketing for Success, the Tennessee Value-Added Beef Program, and many others have contributed to tremendous growth in the number of farmers markets and the number of farmer vendors and direct marketing opportunities in Tennessee.

So, the next time you head to the grocery store, farmers market, or farm to purchase some fruits, vegetables, meat, or other food products produced in Tennessee, give some thought to all of the men and women across the state who make them possible, and remember that we are doing our part at UTIA to help, as well.