Dora Ann Hatch | 3/20/2013 6:52:25 PM
In this article:
|In this Edition|
|Community Supported Agriculture Growers|
|Choosing Crops and Products for Farmers Markets|
|USDA Microloan Program|
Agritourism, a business venture on a working farm, ranch or agricultural enterprise, is growing in popularity throughout the United States. Agritourism blends entertainment, education and tourism together to provide a fun, exciting and memorable getaway for school trips and family outings. This website provides educational resources to assist new and existing entrepreneurs in developing, expanding and improving their agritourism ventures.
Topics covered in this edition include: selling produce at pick-your-own operations, community supported agriculture (CSA) operations and farmers markets. Also included is information on online marketing and financing.
If you like to plant but hate to harvest, a pick-your-own or u-pick-em operation maybe the best choice for you and your family. From the standpoint of a farmer, this type of operation provides income and eliminates hiring seasonal help, which can be difficult to find. It also frees up time for the farmer by eliminating harvesting and transporting.
Successful you-pick-ems offer an “experience” that includes interaction with the farmer. Visitors want to know about the planting process and the chemicals applied. They also may need harvesting lessons.
Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs as they are commonly referred to, can be found seasonally in many parts of our state. These growers sometimes operate independently, or several growers may form a small network. Produce buyers become CSA members or subscribers and share the economic risks and benefits of food production. An agreed-upon sum between the parties provides the member with fresh produce on a predetermined basis: weekly, biweekly or monthly. Once the produce is ready for harvest, members are notified and begin receiving their share.
Some growers deliver a box or container to each member, or members travel to the farm to pick up their share. Either way, members receive a variety of offerings from the farm.
Farmers markets in populated areas have seen an increase in sales over the last few years, indicating there is a preference for fresh produce. Many customers prefer to buy produce from farmers they know. They also enjoy asking questions about what chemicals have been applied to the produce during the growing season.
Farmers markets are good choices for small-acreage farmers, growers who want to test their product line and for those who enjoy growing fruits and vegetables and need a supplemental income. Farmers markets offer minimal marketing startup costs, exemption from standard packing regulations, higher sale price when compared to wholesale, immediate feedback and little need for advertising.
A farmers market is a very competitive place. To succeed in such a competitive market, people must find their niche. Specializing in a particular vegetable or fruit may distinguish your booth from others. Determining what is not available in the current market may also give you a competitive edge if you can find the missing link and offer it at your booth.
When determining what you will offer, consider crops and products that offer diversity: organic or value-added. Constantly try to introduce new products. Perhaps cater to ethnic groups' needs. Having a continuous supply during the growing season will also win loyal customers.
Offer fresh products like tree-ripened or vine-ripened fruit, heirloom varieties, varied lettuce mixes, herbs or fresh flowers. These have proven to be popular at markets.
Buyers are attracted to colorful, orderly arranged displays. Displaying in the measure (basket, bucket, bag, tray) that you offer as a quantity can also have eye appeal. Price your produce in round numbers so that calculation is easy, and don’t try to undersell your fellow farmers. These helpful tips will set you apart from the other growers.
Before planting the first seed, consider where you will sell your produce and how you will market. Community-organized farmers markets usually do not require marketing efforts from the individual farmer. However, on-farm markets, pick-your-own operations and Community Supported Agriculture growers need to consider marketing as part of their business plan.
Taking out ads in the local newspaper and posting flyers in your community are always good marketing plans, but there may be a way to market with less effort. Over the last few years three websites – MarketMaker, Local Harvest, Pick-Your-Own – have become popular with consumers.
MarketMaker, available in Louisiana and other states, is an online tool that connects producers and consumers. More than 150 Louisiana producers are registered, along with 145 farmers markets and roadside stands. The website also can be useful for consumers – including individuals, restaurants and retail stores – who are seeking produce, meat, dairy products, seafood, farmers markets, roadside stands, grocery stores and restaurants.
It serves as a central clearinghouse for locating agricultural and seafood products in Louisiana. The best news is that it is a free service. Click here to learn more.
Local Harvest is a directory of farmers markets, family farms and other sources of sustainably grown food offered for sale. The website includes opportunities to promote your farm, Community Supported Agriculture venture or your farmers market.
There is no charge to create a listing for your farm, CSA or farmers market. Your listing can include a photo of your operation. Space is also provided for a short description about the produce/products you offer for sale. Click here to read more.
Although it is free, donations are welcomed. A suggested donation is $25 a year. If a vendor creates an online store, Local Harvest charges a 15% commission on items sold.
Pick-Your-Own is a free service that provides the same advantages of the above-mentioned MarketMaker and Local Harvest websites. The website also contains added information for the grower.
Marketing is crucial to your success, so I recommend that you market on all three sites.
If you need startup money, consider self-financing or contact your Farm Service Agency about applying for a loan. In January 2013, USDA announced microloans for qualifying operations. These loans are repayable at a rate of 1.25 percent monthly with a maximum loan amount of $35,000.
For those who qualify, the loan can help begin or enhance an existing operation. The loan application process has been shortened with a more simplified application when compared with traditional farm loans.
According to a recent news article released by USDA, these loans can be used for startup expenses – such as hoop houses to extend the growing season, essential tools, irrigation, delivery vehicles – and annual expenses, such as seed fertilizer, utilities, land rents, marketing and distribution expenses.
A variety of information on growing agricultural products can be found on the LSU AgCenter website www.lsuagcenter.com