For New Farmers
How do I market my product(s)?
Most beginning farmers state this question incorrectly! "What products does the market want?" is a more appropriate form of this important question. All too often, farmers produce what they enjoy producing without sufficient consideration of market opportunities and market demand.
The "how to market" question breaks into several sets of decisions. One has to do with searching for marketable products, which drives many other farming considerations. You need to match up the product with the most suitable market approach. For example, you may be good at producing high quality apples. Unfortunately, marketing apples is extremely competitive, with large scale, established producers competing very effectively in local, national and international market places. One key to success is seeking a few reliable markets for those apples before production begins.
You need to match market options with your market preferences, too. For example, do you want to wholesale or direct market? Is adding value to your product a good strategy? How about selling on-line? How do these options pencil out in your business plan? Learn about what the market opportunities and barriers are.
Marketing is also about promoting your product(s) to meet -- and exceed -- customer expectations. Your marketing plan is a critical part of your farm operation. There are many courses and tools to help you design your marketing strategies, from how to approach buyers to packaging and signage to setting up displays.
Here are some things to think about:
- What are the market options to sell my product? What are the pros and cons? Some examples would be direct marketing on-farm (Community-Supported Agriculture or CSA, farm stand), off-farm (farmers markets, sales to restaurants, internet, catalogs), and using brokers or wholesalers.
- Who are my customers? What do they want? How do they want it presented, prepared, or delivered?
- Why would a buyer choose my product? What makes my product unique?
- What are the current consumer trends? Studying consumer demographics and food industry studies offers insight to the potential farm product market.
- Typically, a beginning farmer can benefit by NOT attempting to compete with large-scale agriculture. Are there suitable specialty markets for your product(s)?
- Trying to produce a farm product takes considerable skill. Trying to add value to this product takes considerable skill. Do you have the necessary facilities, capital, time and expertise to bring your product(s) to the customer?
Here is a sample of resources:
Commodity groups can be found through Cooperative Extension offices, Departments of Agriculture, local Farm Bureaus, or an internet search engine. All Extension offices have resources or fact sheets about marketing. Most State Departments of Agriculture have marketing divisions that can help you.
ATTRA has resources and fact sheets on agricultural marketing.
Choosing Your Market: A Direct Market Decision Tool - From Georgia Organics.
Direct Marketing - Overview of direct marketing with a section on market research and development of a marketing plan.
Farmers and their Diversified Horticultural Marketing Strategies - Clips from the excellent 1999 Vern Grubinger video from University of Vermont Extension. Fourteen farmers representing 8 farms in 4 northeastern states share their marketing strategies from road side stands, to CSAs and restaurants, to wholesale cooperatives. Also available in video form from the NESFI Bookstore.
The National Agricultural Law Research and Information Center has numerous articles including Farmers' Markets: Rules, Regulations and Opportunities.
The Legal Guide for Farm Direct Marketing is published by Drake University's Agricultural Law Center.
The Small Dairy Resource Guide and The New Farmers Market are available from SARE.
The Canadian Farm Business Management Council publishes a guide called Marketing on the Edge.
The Hartman Group, a market research firm, has numerous online publications about the "healthy lifestyle and wellness" markets, including the book Marketing to the New Natural Consumer.
Selling Produce to Restaurants, is a useful publication by organic farmer Diane Green of Greentree Naturals.
Operating a Profitable Small Farm fact sheets are on line at Maryland Cooperative Extension.
NRAES Publications on this topic include Managing Production and Marketing Systems
How to Direct Market Farm Products on the Internet is available on line from the USDA Ag Marketing Service.
Penn State Cooperative Extension offers an extensive range of agricultural production and marketing fact sheets on line.
Growing for Market magazine
University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension has a site for information on value-added farm products.
Pennsylvania Retail Farm Marketing Association offers resources of use for farmers both in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
For market research, try these sources:
Government Agencies, including:
National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA
Economic Research Service, USDA
Farm Service Agency, USDA
Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA
Small Business Administration
Food & Drug Administration, Food Safety Information
Commercial Sites such as: