The final installment in our 4-part series about leaders in the
Practical Farmers of Iowa network.

Family builds healthy relationships with customers
through organic grains, meats

Continued from page 1

 

Enterprise Summary

Today, the Rosmanns’ farm income is derived from:

  • direct marketing of livestock (15 percent)
  • grain sales
    (50 percent)
  • organic beef and natural pork sales to other cooperatives and companies
    (35 percent).

 

 

 

"Look what [subsidies] have done to our rural society—they’ve destroyed it. When you raise subsidies, landlords raise their rent."

--Ron

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"People want to know where their meat comes from. We want our customers to see how our animals are raised. We're not just livestock producers. We build relationships, so we get to know our clients over time and establish trust."

-- Ron

Expanding the meat business

The Rosmanns have found a viable way to build a successful farming enterprise while providing customers with organic meat--a product that more and more consumers believe is a superior food.

The Rosmanns have a customer base of more than 100 from their promotional brochure alone. “We've got people calling us asking if they can get copies of our brochures,” Maria said.

The family started marketing their meat a few years ago through the Iowa Acupuncture Clinic in Des Moines. “They believe in the importance of eating healthy meat, and we were able to develop a client base through them,” Ron explained.

The Rosmanns deliver pork, beef and chicken to the clinic about every six to eight weeks. “We usually have 30 to 35 orders each time, and each customer usually buys $100 to $150 of meat each time,” Ron said.

The secret to the high-quality meat comes from the processing, as well as the production, Ron explained. “We age the beef for 21 to 24 days at 32-34 degrees F. This consistently improves the meat's tenderness, flavor and shelf life. Major processors like IBP only age the meat overnight, and people's biggest complaint with most beef is that the quality is inconsistent.”

The process is quite different from the way large packers like IBP handle meat. “They spray the carcasses with water and freeze it, because they don’t want shrink. Adding water to the carcass can create a breeding ground for bacteria, though,” Ron said.

The Rosmanns have also found a strong ally in the Amend Packing Co. of Des Moines, which has helped them promote and sell their meat. This three-generation, federally-inspected operation custom-butchers the Rosmanns' cattle and processes meat in a time-honored way that produces a premium quality carcass. “The company was skeptical about our product at first, but they have become one of our biggest sales promoters for the last three years,” Ron said.

The Rosmanns keep some of their meat in cold storage at Amend Packing, which is located 100 miles east of their farm. The family also freezes meat in a state-inspected storage facility at their farm.

Direct contact with customers

The Rosmanns' have a wide customer base for their beef, pork and poultry. “Physicians buy our product, and chemotherapy patients say it’s the only beef they can eat. Younger people like the fact that it's organic, while older people say it tastes like the beef they remember eating as a kid. They say this is the way meat is supposed to taste,” Maria said.

The Rosmanns deliver meat once a month to specialty grocery stores and health food stores in Des Moines, Ames and Omaha. “We also do some food-service catering with Iowa State University through Practical Farmers of Iowa. Iowa State is starting to serve our beef one night a week at the residence halls,” Ron noted.

The Rosmanns market all the cuts. The beef is available in quarters, halves and the whole animal. Different cuts, including steaks, roasts, stew meat and ground beef are also available in a variety of different packages.

“We’ve found a way to use up everything from the meat we sell. A kennel in Des Moines buys the meat bones, we sell the pork lard, and we compost the beef tallow here at the farm,” Ron added.

The best way to build a customer base is to build trust, Ron emphasized. “People want to know where their meat comes from. We want our customers to see how our animals are raised. We're not just livestock producers. We build relationships, so we get to know our clients over time and establish trust.”

The Rosmanns periodically invite their customers to visit their farm to see how he livestock are raised and help customers understand why the animals are produced this way.

One snag in the beef market is the way sales of organic beef have flattened out in recent years, Ron said.

“Natural beef has a 10- to 12-year advantage in the whole-foods stores. Consumers think there’s no difference between organic and natural beef. There is a difference, since natural just means no antibiotics and no hormones. Organic beef is priced higher than natural beef, and consumers are staying with the natural beef, since it’s a product they know and like,” he explained.

Challenges and goals

Concerns about premium beef markets aren’t the only challenges facing farmers like the Rosmanns. Current government programs have created a big problem for agriculture, Ron said.

“We need to move toward the concept of a conservation security program. Right now, the farm bill is paying farmers to overproduce corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton to get subsidies. It doesn’t make sense. As long as we have a subsidy, which I think we need due to world markets, that subsidy needs to be based on conservation, not production,” Ron said.

Subsidies that encourage overproduction and unbridled expansion have taken a severe toll on rural America, Ron added.

“Look what they’ve done to our rural society—they’ve destroyed it. When you raise subsidies, landlords raise their rent. Land around here is selling for $2,200 an acre, and cash rent is running $150 to $170 an acre. When land comes up for sale or rent, the really big farmers snap it up and get bigger. Why should young people go into farming, when they can quickly go into debt getting land and buying equipment? Where’s the next generation of farmers going to come from? I can’t think of one young guy who has started farming recently in our county.”

Ron said his family's goal for their business is to stay small and sell more of their beef, pork and poultry locally, from Des Moines to Omaha. The Rosmanns are also working to create a farming enterprise that their three sons may want to take over in the future.

“Farming is our profession, not a part-time job. So many conventional farmers are encouraging their kids not to come back to the farm, but we've been able to create something for our kids to come back to, if they want. We’re trying to teach them as much as possible about the farm,” Maria said.

“We’ve learned a lot through the years with this type of farming,” Ron added, “but there’s a lot to keep learning.”

Previous installments in the Pioneers of Iowa Sustainable Farming series

  • December 3, 2002: Vic and Cindy Madsen run a diversified operation in southwest Iowa that emphasizes customer relations & direct marketing
  • November 11, 2002: Dick and Sharon Thompson have 35 years of hard proof that regenerative agriculture can outperform conventional
  • October 25, 2002: Tom & Irene Franztzen manage for quality in soil, hogs and life

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