ONE FARM TO ANOTHER
Before you plant that first seed…
Season's end is a good time to think about alternative marketing strategies, Jeff says.

By Jeff Moyer, The Rodale Institute® Farm Manager

Jeff Moyer is the farm manager at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm, and has been here for over 26 years, refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems. The farm has over 1,000 organic apple trees, a 3-acre CSA, 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market, and 25 acres of experimental research plots that have been used to test and compare the yield, soil health and environmental impact of organic and conventional systems for the last 22 years.

"It's been extremely rewarding to work at The Rodale Institute," says Jeff. "Working on projects and with people who are having a positive impact on family farm practices, economics, and environmental stewardship is very fulfilling. The positive changes I've seen on our own farm over the years—and farms around the world— convinces me that we're on the right road."

How to contact Jeff

Jeff's email:
jeff.moyer@rodaleinst.org

Phone: 610-683-1420

Mailing address:
611 Siegfriedale Rd.
Kutztown, PA 19530

 

November 10, 2005: As farmers we all know what parts of our business we enjoy and what parts we try to avoid. I think we all like working with the soil, the equipment, and the animals on our farms--at least I do. That’s what attracted most of us to this line of work. Being outdoors, working with the seasons and being your our own boss are all part of the job description we fell in love with.

But the reality is that we can do the very best job of producing and growing the products we wish to sell, but until we get them marketed we haven’t made a penny. And let’s face it, it takes a lot of pennies to make an operation of any size sustainable.

Here is where many of us slip up. Farming is something of a loners' occupation, and marketing isn't always fun. Many of us don’t like dealing with customers, selling our products, or inviting folks to our farms. But it can be profitable, and that is fun.

Whether you're growing grains, vegetables, fruits or livestock, marketing directly to the end user can net you more profit than selling wholesale. Sure, it requires some extra effort, but maybe not as much as you fear.

Consider this example from our farm here at the Institute:

We raise soft red winter wheat. Several years ago a guy called me and asked what I knew about wheat grass. I had to admit to him and myself that the correct answer was, "Not much." He was the owner of a small but thriving bagel bar. He wanted to expand into selling wheat grass juice but realized, as he said, that “it needs to be organic.” I told him we could try growing some wheat grass in flats for him. That was over five years ago, and we are still selling him wheat grass to the tune of about $3,500 a year.

Now, that may not sound like much money, but if you figure the amount of wheat seed I plant, minus the greenhouse cost, labor and soil I’m getting around $45/bushel for that portion of my wheat crop. And we never even tried to start this enterprise, let alone expand it. Obviously we don’t sell all our wheat through this channel but it does point out how value-added marketing and a willingness to be creative can play a role in the success of your farm.

As we all begin to wrap up the 2005 harvest it’s the perfect time to begin planning for next season’s market. Here are some important questions we could all ask ourselves about marketing:

  • How can my family re-think our marketing strategy?
  • Are we selling our products at the highest value?
  • Or are we just moving commodities through the farm gate at a discounted price?

I’m all in favor of finding ways to take a small portion of a crop I already produce and marketing it up the scale. Another example that's worked for us is roasting soybeans prior to sale. Last year we roasted our beans and got $18.75/bushel for them. It cost about $1.26/bu to roast and chill them, not bad money when you’re selling them by the trailer load. We've also used leftover pumpkins from Halloween sales to make high-value pumpkin butter.

You don’t necessarily need to completely change your operation to benefit from a good marketing plan, just re-think things a bit. Selling your livestock to a packing house or having it custom butchered and selling it directly to your customers can make a huge difference to the bottom line.

You may want to completely change your farm enterprise or just tweak your marketing plan. But, whatever you do, don’t sit back and take what someone else will give you for whatever it is you grow. Figure out how to be pro-active in the market.

You may even find out you enjoy this marketing stuff as much as you enjoy the production end of things. And if not you can console yourself with some extra cash.

From One Farm to Another

Jeff