Growers and buyers of fruits, vegetables, herbs, bedding plants, ornamentals, and other specialty crops are needed to indicate their interest in the opening of a new regional produce auction to be located in either Granville or Person County in the northern Piedmont of North Carolina.

The auction system is a dynamic marketing system being explored to offer a way for existing horticultural crop growers, as well as tobacco growers who want to diversify, a chance to sell a given quantity of a crop at one time.

The auction will be held in a simple open-air pole barn facility that will be built by a landowner, or it may be run in an existing tobacco warehouse during the first year of operation.

The pole barn structure will have no refrigeration facility to hold produce, because it will arrive at the auction and leave in the buyer's truck in a short time. Perishable produce that requires refrigeration will be the responsibility of the grower and/or buyer.

The auction will probably start at 4 p.m. to allow distant growers time to harvest produce in the morning and have enough time to drive to the auction. Initially, the auction will run one day a week during the spring but will increase to two or three days a week as the growing season unfolds.

The auction is expected to draw growers and buyers from across North Carolina, Virginia and surrounding states. The majority of the buyers will include specialty and organic grocery stores, upscale roadside market owners, produce wholesalers, farmers market vendors, specialty restaurant chefs, nurseries, garden centers, etc.

A small fee will be charged to each grower selling at the auction, which will cover bookkeeping and maintenance costs and to hire an auctioneer.

The produce auction concept was introduced by Carl Cantaluppi, area horticulture agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Granville and Person counties. Cantaluppi learned of the auction method by seeing it successfully done in Ohio and Pennsylvania. He held a preliminary meeting last December to introduce the concept to growers.

Managers of the auctions were on the program, as well as potential buyers who were interested in buying at a North Carolina auction.

Cantaluppi sees the auction as a marketing method that would encourage more regional production of horticultural products and would draw buyers to the auction from a wide geographic area to select only the highest quality produce and plants for their retail sales operations.

Each grower will be given a number that will permanently identify him with his produce. Buyers will come to know each grower by his number and will learn what kind of quality that grower sells.

The auction method brings the buyer to the grower, insuring a sale. This eliminates the need for a manager to contact buyers off the premises (as in a cooperative), forming verbal contracts that are not guaranteed, that many times lead to unsold produce.

Growers and buyers are now urgently needed to respond to indicate their interest and willingness to participate in this produce auction by contacting Carl Cantaluppi, Granville County Extension Center, P.O. Box 926, Oxford, N.C. 27565. You may call him at 919-603-1350 or e-mail him at carl_cantaluppi@ncsu.edu.

Cantaluppi would like to get a core group of 40 to 50 growers and buyers to start the auction for the first year and to grow in future years. Growers should contact their buyers to explain the auction concept to them and ask them to contact Cantaluppi so that a list of growers and buyers can be assembled.

If enough interest is generated, Cantaluppi will then contact the growers and buyers from the list and invite them to a meeting this winter to decide where the auction will be held and to discuss the rules and regulations.

He is very excited about the concept and hopes to see the auction start next year (spring 2002), as it will be a tremendous marketing boon to growers and buyers. He welcomes any questions by contacting him at the above address.