Marketing and Farm Business Management

For your small farm to be successful, you need to be able to market your products. Basic farm business management skills will go a long way toward ensuring your farm's economic viability.

| February 2015

Vegetable stand

A farm stand is one way to sell your products, but be sure to investigate other avenues. Diverse venues make more sense from a farm business management perspective; you will have greater overall stability with some variety in the services and products you provide.

Photo by Fotolia/Khorzhevska

Rebecca Thistlethwaite introduces readers to some of the country’s most innovative farmers in Farms With a Future (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012), a must-read for anyone aspiring to get into small-to-midscale market farming or to make their existing farm more dynamic, profitable and sustainable. Thistlethwaite addresses farm business management with a goal of long-term economic, social and ecological sustainability through marketing, careful planning and nontraditional funding. The following excerpt is from Chapter 2, “Identifying Your Market Niche.”

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Farms With a Future.

Say you grow a field of straight, crunchy, sweet carrots; then harvest, wash, bunch, and pack them all in wax-covered boxes. Next, you pick up the phone and call all the grocery stores in your town. They all give you a lukewarm reception and offer to pay you whatever the market rate is, currently $0.75 a bunch. Doing a little back-of-the-envelope math, you figure you have to get paid at least $1.00 a bunch to break even. Searching for other options, you call a handful of local gourmet restaurants to see if they would be interested in buying carrots. They are, but they only go through a box of 24 bunches each week, so that helps you move only four boxes of carrots when you have a pallet of them waiting in your cooler. Desperate, you start to call markets even farther away and leave messages with a bunch of distributors.

You can’t get into the farmers’ market with one crop, nor can you entice everyday consumers to stop at a roadside stand stocked with only carrots. Eventually, you wind up finding a buyer willing to pay $0.90 a bunch and you have to drive an hour to drop off the pallet. Factoring in the mileage on your vehicle, you would have been better off selling locally for less money. In the end, you lose money, along with a chunk of confidence, and scale back your farming plans for the future based on this one experience.

None of this needed to happen! Take a different path, one that involves some upfront homework but that will enable you to sustain your business over the long term. In short, before you take on any farming enterprise, do some market research.

Marketing Farm Products Starts with Market Research

You don’t need to be an economist or hold an MBA to do good market research. It is fairly straightforward: simply ask and get answers for the following questions:

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