A cooperative effort between vegetable growers in the Red River Trade Corridor (RRTC) and their counterparts in Brittany, France, is projected to expand the region's agricultural industry.
Representatives from Minnesota and North Dakota recently traveled to Brittany to examine French technologies used in vegetable production, with an eye to setting up similar systems, says Jerry Nagel, RRTC executive director and a member of the visiting group. The French use "unique technologies" when freezing vegetables, which results in a healthier, more appetizing product, Nagel says.
The process involves flash freezing the vegetables to 30 degrees below zero. The quick-freezing method does not allow water in the vegetables to crystallize; when the vegetables thaw, they are still fresh, not mushy. The quality control continues through packaging for the grocer's shelves and marketing.
This projected partnership has two goals: to provide the farmers in the region, which includes Minnesota, Iowa, Montana, the Dakotas and Nebraska, with new methods of vegetable production, and to create an economic development impact by processing and marketing vegetables in the region. The process involves increasing the knowledge base of the growers to manage a product totally from the field to the store shelf.
Now is a good time to expand vegetable production in the region for a couple of reasons, Nagel says. In traditional vegetable producing areas of the country-California, Texas and Arizona-the high cost of water is an increasingly difficult problem. And since the soil in the northern regions freezes during the winter, there is no need to use chemicals to destroy the bacteria in the soil, resulting in a healthier final product.
As American consumers shop more and more for convenience and high-quality, healthy products, there should be ample market for the new products, which will include deli and pasta salads, Nagel says. He expects the products will be sold in a customer region that includes Chicago, Denver, St. Louis and Kansas City.
Negotiations with several French companies are in the early stage; several entities are involved in the process, including the growers, the RRTC, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state agriculture departments and universities.
A regional, rural economic development organization, the RRTC is headquartered at the University of Minnesota in Crookston, and serves the states of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, as well as the Canadian province of Manitoba.