University of Maryland Extension

Vegetable Production

Interest in vegetable production in Maryland is on the rise. The state of Maryland produces approximately 56 million dollars of vegetable crops each year on 33,000 acres of farmland. The local food movement has resulted in increased marketing opportunities for fresh local grown vegetable products. The relatively small acreage requirement coupled with strong local demand makes vegetable production a popular enterprise for beginning farmers.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many acres do I need to be a vegetable farmer?

Wholesale operations typically need at least 40-50 acres of tillable land, with 15-20 acres devoted to vegetable production and the remaining in rotational crops.  Farmers specializing in direct marketing or other high value sales can produce a full-time income on as little as 3-5 acres of tillable land.

Where do I find information on vegetable production?  

What are the different vegetable markets?

Your marketing strategy really determines your production parameters. A farm specializing in direct sales at a farmers market or farm stand will have very different production scheme than a farm specializing in large-scale high efficiency output for wholesale markets. There are numerous marketing channels available in Maryland, including:

  • Community Supported Agriculture
  • Farm Stand
  • Farmers Market
  • Auctions
  • Wholesale to Broker or End-User

For an overview of marketing channels see the Ag Marketing website, a program of University of Maryland Extension.

What type of equipment do I need for a vegetable operation?

Common equipment used for vegetable operations include tillage equipment (plow, disc, cultipacker, harrow), 40-50 horse power tractor, plastic laying equipment, Cultivator, harvest wagons, and irrigation equipment.  For a full description of vegetable equipment needs, please see the Vegetable Equipment and Irrigation Page at the Maryland Rural Enterprise Development Center, an online initiative of the University of Maryland Extension.

Do I need irrigation to produce vegetables?

As with most questions, it depends. Does it rain every year? If not, you will need irrigation. In most cases, vegetable farms rely heavily upon irrigation to produce a consistent supply of quality produce.  Irrigation systems include a water source, pump and some type of distribution system. The use of drip irrigation, mulches, cover crops, and good soil management can reduce water demand, but irrigation is still essential. Some crops that can normally get by with limited water after establishment include asparagus, okra, and crops grown during the cooler fall or early spring timeframe.

What are some other issues I need to consider before starting a vegetable farm?

Other issues include:

  • Wildlife Damage. Deer, groundhogs, birds, among others can severely damage crops. Make sure you have a plan to manage wildlife if your farm is located in an area with high populations.
  • Labor. Vegetable crops that are high value and intensively managed normally have high labor needs. Make sure you are prepared to put in the long hours and tough physical demands that come with this type of farming. You should also have plans to find and hire supplemental labor if needed.
  • Markets. Finding a good market is a “make it or break it” proposition for small vegetable farms. Do your homework and continually improve your access to markets.
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