Young Iowa farmers breaking into state’s commodity lineup with berries, tomatoes, sea bass

Written by
Donnelle Eller

Des Moines Registerweigap9l

Three young Iowa farmers talked about building new niches in the state’s staple of corn, soybean, cattle and hogs at the 95th annual Iowa Farm Bureau convention in Des Moines today.

Andrew Pittz grows aronia berries at Sawmill Hollow Family Farm near Missouri Valley in western Iowa, Jennie Smith grows heirloom tomatoes at Butcher Crick Farms near Carlisle, and Joe Sweeney is preparing to raise Barramundi sea bass at Buckeye Fish Co. in Hardin County.

Pittz said his family’s business is building retail sales at companies like Hy-Vee and Whole Foods, attracting customers to the business through agritourism, and working on encouraging other farmers to grow highly nutritious aronia berries. “People want to stay in rural communities and be entrepreneurial,” he said.

Smith said her father’s illness brought her back to the family farm. She looked for an opportunity to grow a product that could be profitable and heard chefs talk about the difficulty of finding fresh heirloom tomatoes.

Smith said she works nearly non-stop during the summer, growing tomatoes, managing a Des Moines restaurant in the evening, marketing her produce at Des Moines farmers market and holding special events, like tomato dinners. And she also uses social media to sell any surplus tomatoes.

Sweeney said he’s building a facility that will be used to raise Barramundi sea bass. He said the facility is about the same size and investment as hog confinement facility. But the operation has the potential to be significantly more profitable, he said, adding that the sea bass are highly sought-after by fining dining restaurants.

“We can payoff the operation much quicker,” Sweeney said, adding that demand for farmed fish is growing quickly and meeting or surpassing demand for beef.

He said his family is a longtime cattle producer, but the new venture will add diversity to their business.

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