Great Northern Garlic Growers Cooperative seeks market niche

North Dakota State Roundup

Published July 1, 1996  | July 1996 issue

Move over, durum wheat and corn cooperatives. There is a new co-op bringing value-added to state-grown productsthe Great Northern Garlic Growers Cooperative (GNGGC), formed in September 1995 to pool grower resources and share information about producing, processing and marketing garlic.

GNGGC members would like to cash in on the recent growth in garlic's popularity. From 1984 to 1993 per capita consumption of garlic doubled in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A grant from the North Dakota Ag Products Utilization Commission made it possible for the co-op to commission a market analysis and feasibility study. The market analysis confirmed what co-op members already guessed: There is strength in numbers, but not enough strength at the moment to break into a tight US garlic market. The market appears to be dominated by a few large US growers, located primarily in California and New York, some of whom also import garlic from their farms outside the United States.

"The market analysis sheds light on the fact that this is going to have to be a collective effort to make this a viable industry," says Gary Price, Minot herb farmer, and co-op founder and president. "We're still trying to find new markets for garlic, and not just for North Dakota farmers, but for farmers across the Upper Midwest."

Garlic prices vary, depending on quality of the stock and the market, Price says. Currently, prices range from $1 per pound for processing stock to over $10 for quality braided stock.

Garlic can be as profitable as other crops for Upper Midwestern farmers, Price says, but those farmers will probably not plant more than five acres because of garlic's extensive drying period. The cooler climate means that the garlic must be dried indoors and will limit the quantity that one farmer can produce, he says.

"The incentive for farmers to grow garlic is that it opens up a type of agriculture that we have not seen here in the North," Price says. "I believe that small-scale farmers can use garlic as a crop rotation as well as a money-making enterprise."

Price doesn't expect regional growers to be major players for a number of years, but a niche market could open for co-op members who plan to offer a fresh, chemical-free product.

Christine Power