Vegetable-growing smallholders don’t need to be left out of the commercial market. With the help of a market agent, small growers can sell their produce at the country’s large fresh produce markets.

A good agent will have knowledge of seasons, market influences and market fluctuations, and will be able to advise growers on what sells best, what is in demand, when and why. On that advice, smallholders can plan a vegetable crop that will be in high demand for sale at the exact time of harvest.

Simply delivering stock to the market and hoping for the best will not suit a small-scale producer as, sometimes, the price of a particular item on that day will be too low for a small producer to make any profit on. Have an agent will mean you can learn this upfront, avoiding the trip and selling your produce locally instead.

Understanding Prices

In addition to the day-to-day help an agent provides, they will also be able to advise what sells at premium prices at what times during the year. For example, spinach as a crop in spring and summer is very common and therefore the price you will get at the market will be low as the market is saturated with spinach bundles. In that instance, selling directly to your nearby shops and restaurants will save you the trip to the market where you will fetch a lower price.

Agents also recommend that, because of this market fluctuation and saturation, vegetables with a longer shelf life are be ideal. This includes pumpkins, gem squash and butternut.

You must account for the markets’ and agents’ commission as well as your transport costs when looking at sales prices. Some markets have websites with daily updates on the cost of produce that day and amounts sold. This will help you decide if it is worth the trip to the market. For some these websites, see the links below:

Johannesburg

Cape Town

East London

Durban

Packaging and Delivery

A market agent will also provide advice to you, the grower, on the standard method of packaging. This may be in cardboard boxes, sugar pockets and so on. There are also requirements for the quantities to package in each box or bag.

At some markets in South Africa, there are suppliers where growers can buy packaging, some new and some used. If the box is used, the grower will just need to modify it to their specifications. This also means that you have the chance to develop your own brand recognition, and seeing your name alongside major commercial farmers is an achievement to be proud of.

For smallholders who already grow vegetables for their families and staff, it is not a huge leap to add some square meterage to their existing vegetable garden for the growing of products destined for market. Using an agent’s advice, planting particular crops at the right time with the knowledge that by the time they are ready for harvest it will be an in-demand vegetable, smallholders can use their existing space and skills to earn a living, become self-sustainable and create jobs.

These markets are separated into sections: vegetables, fruit, potatoes, onions etc. You will need an agent in each section if you want to sell a variety of produce. A good agent will have contacts in each section and can facilitate between the grower and other sections if required.

This is part of a series on marketing your produce. For more, click here.

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