Apples U Pick

applesRevised, March 2016 by Linda Naeve

U-Pick is often used to describe a farm where customers come to the farm to harvest the crop. Customer harvesting is a popular alternative for crops that are easily identified as ripe by the color or size and are harvested in a concentrated period of time. Americans go to U-picks not just because the prices are often less than retail, but because they consider it recreational and enjoy the farm setting and picking their own food. Families seem to be the majority of U-pick customers as parents provide their children with a unique on-farm experience.

From a grower’s perspective, pick-your-own apple operation replace one labor-intensive task-- harvesting, with another -- managing on-farm visitors. By allowing consumers to pick produce for themselves, less labor is required for harvesting and tasks such as grading, storing, packing, and delivery. However, inviting customers onto the farm also requires a higher liability insurance policy.

Marketing

Not all orchards lend themselves to this type of enterprise. Location and appearance are important as the production site must be inviting and convenient. Typically, the most successful U-picks are located near populated areas.  Easy road access and a good parking area are essential. Work hours must be extended to accommodate demand at high traffic times which often fall on evenings and weekends. 

Whether or not school groups are included, education is another component of a pick-your-own operation.  It need not be formalized but all workers who come in contact with the public should be prepared to answer questions.

Repeat customers will learn to request particular varieties. Educate potential regulars by allowing them to sample different varieties.  It’s important to advertise regularly through both local media and the Internet. Promote your location and the on-farm experience. Emphasize the qualitative difference of freshly picked produce and price it accordingly.

Prices

By using uniform containers, produce may be sold by weight. If customers bring their own containers, the containers have to be weighed before harvesting. Another option is pricing by each item. This works well for school groups. 

Resources:

National Directory of Farmers Market and Direct Marketing Associations, Ag Marketing Service, USDA - Using this national database, find the nearest farmers' market and direct market association.

MarketMaker. This online service in 20 states brings sellers and buyers together. It is a free online service for producers to market their products. Consumers can find farm products and sales methods, such as U-pick operations.

Pick-Your-Own (U-Pick) Marketing. 2014 rev. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.