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
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
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
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
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