Reap What You Sow
Whether it’s an act of God or an act of Congress, modern U.S. farms face numerous challenges. Efforts to stay profitable and deliver quality product are top of mind with owners and operators, and their business strategies and goals continue to evolve with the needs of consumers and the requirements of legislation.
Whether they operate on a hometown or whole-earth scale, farms and ranches, and companies that provide products and services to them throughout the pipeline, can boost business and ensure profit in lean times with creative marketing strategies that include the use of functional, memorable promotional items.
Kristina Beal, a Spokane, Washington-based marketing consultant with distributor American Solutions For Business, says agriculture is much like any other industry, with product needs that cover everyday business operations as well as promotion and recognition.
“When working with ag businesses, make sure you are gathering items and ideas that relate back to what the farmer produces. There are also some basics that are needed, such as business cards, brochures, flyers and signage,” Beal says. “Providing a promotional product that can help relate back to the product is always a winner. By understanding the values held by my customer, I can find them the perfect items that align with their personal and professional messages.”
America’s farmers are facing tougher economic conditions every year. The economic outlook presented by the USDA estimates net farm income will remain flat over the next 10 years; accounting for inflation, it will likely fall.
Numbers for 2018 show a decrease in net farm income to $59.5 billion, the lowest level since 2006. Increases in productivity and output are outpacing food demand and population growth, resulting in falling prices. However, exports are forecast to increase to $142.5 billion for fiscal year 2018, up $3 billion over last year—livestock, dairy and poultry exports bring in the most revenue.
99% amount of U.S. farms classified as family farms
52% amount of U.S. land used for agricultural production
40% amount of U.S. farmland rented over the past 25 years
31% amount of farmland owned by non-operator landlords in 2014
1% amount of nonfamily farms, which produce 10 percent of the total value of U.S. agricultural output
In April 2018, U.S. farm operators hired 648,000 workers—a four percent drop from 2017. But, wages rose in that same time period by four percent. Workers received an average wage of $13.72 per hour: field workers received an average of $12.72, while livestock workers earned $12.78 per hour (an increase of two percent).
Most hired farm workers found jobs in the Cornbelt states—Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Ohio—while fewer workers were hired in the Appalachian II region—Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.
U.S. Crop Production 2017
Corn – 14.6 billion bushels (65 pounds each, shelled)
Sorghum – 364 million bushels (50 pounds each, seed)
Rice – 178 million cwt (hundredweight, 100 pounds per unit)
Soybeans – 4.39 billion bushels (60 pounds each)
Cotton – 21.3 million bales (480 pounds each)
Evening Light Lavender Farm in Deer Park, Washington, sells lavender teas in its farm store. Kristina Beal of American Solutions for Business suggested a branded mug to complement the tea. “Drinkware can be a fun, impactful way to promote brand locality, and having a branded mug they could sell with those items was a perfect match for Evening Light,” says Beal. “Now, every time the customer enjoys this specific tea (or any drink, really), they’re reminded of their experience at the lavender farm. Branding is all about connecting the user with a positive feeling while using your product.”
Source: American Solutions for Business
Gauging Customer Interest
A seed company wanted its farm/ranch customers to book seed orders for the next spring planting. Anyone who booked seed orders in early winter received a Triangle Rain Gauge. Farmers and ranchers need to know how much rain they receive, so it was the perfect product on which to put the seed company’s logo and contact information, as it is seen on a regular basis.
Source: Beacon Promotions
Getting In On The Ground Floor
Agricultural Retailers Association www.aradc.org
Agricultural Marketing Resource Center www.agmrc.org
American Farm Bureau Federation www.fb.org
National Farmers Organization www.nfo.org
National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (The Grange) https://nationalgrange.org
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition https://sustainableagriculture.net
Using data analytics to preserve natural resources
Trends that continue to build momentum and sustain interest in 2018 include farm-to-table dining, agritourism and local access to fresh foods; e.g. farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture, or CSA.
Eat Local Food®, a food-marketing and art design company in Novi, Michigan, offers these suggestions for successful farmers’ market vendor promotion:
- Partner with local businesses to co-brand reusable tote bags
- Offer custom punch-cards to customers to build loyalty
- Host fundraising events and offer gifts to guests who purchase tickets or tables.
Agritourism is serving as an additional source of income and educational opportunity for small family farms throughout the U.S. But transforming a farm into a tourist destination takes some savvy marketing strategies.
Building a brand that can be visually promoted and sharing that brand with community stakeholders are just a couple ways to jumpstart an agritourism business, according to the Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) office at the University of California-Davis.
ANR also recommends promoting a professional appearance among staff and workers by investing in quality logoed uniform apparel, and by installing high-quality, durable signage to help guests find their way to the destination.
Farm To Table: Next Generation
Chefs with a penchant for the freshest finds are bypassing the farmers’ market and heading straight to the source—either partnering with small local farms or growing and raising food themselves. The more direct approach means menus are built entirely around available foods, but it’s a process and a product that appeals to locavores—individuals whose diet is made up primarily of locally sourced food.
Chefs who have been sourcing direct for years say the cost is not necessarily lower than purchasing at markets or through wholesalers, but the end result is a higher level of confidence among diners that the food they are served is of the highest quality, and at its freshest.
Making Do: Eliminating Food Waste
Food insecurity remains a top issue throughout the United States, and while retailers are helping to eliminate food waste by donating unsold goods to food banks, farms are also beginning to curtail food waste with best practices at the source.
More than 140 billion pounds of food is thrown away each year, according to the USDA, which offers loans to help farmers provide better storage conditions for crops. Additionally, organizations like the Society of St. Andrew are sending volunteers into fields to gather crops that are left after a commercial harvest is complete. The gathered food is provided to food-insecure communities.
Sources: Wall Street Journal, www.moveforhunger.org
For specific product ideas, please refer to the flipbook.
Jen Alexander is associate editor of PPB.