Farm Marketers Say: Mother Nature is Boss
The volatility of weather in the Midwest and Northeast last season made a big impact on production for direct marketers. While 21% of respondents to our State of the Industry survey say production was up more than 10% for their business, that is only slightly higher than the 19% who say it was down by more than 10% in the 2016 growing season.
This feast or famine theme was carried over when the majority of direct marketers responding to our State of the Industry survey — 63% to be exact — say the weather negatively impacted the direct-market business. Other issues, such as labor, the economy, competition, and food safety rules also vexed direct marketers.
Customers’ mindsets also upset the stability of the direct marketing business, says some respondents to our survey.
“There don’t seem to be as many customers as there used to be, possibly too many markets, maybe changes in lifestyle,” says a grower from the Midwest in operation for more than 10 years.
Another grower from the West, whose operation has been in business for more than 25 years, says she has noticed a change in the land surrounding her family’s farm.
“[The] area has changed from agriculture to residential and the support businesses have diminished or are gone completely locally,” she says.
A direct marketer who operates a pick-your-own farm in the Northeast said the biggest obstacle for 2016 was something out of her control — construction. This can be very frustrating when access to your farm is interrupted and your crops are prime for picking.
“The biggest issue for us this year was major road work being done on either side of us and right at our driveway through much of the picking season,” she says.
A direct marketer from the Northwest in business for more than 50 years says he’s worried about the health of his business, because it “is not sustainable long term, people are too used to cheap fruit.”
On a positive note, though, many direct marketers say the strong connection to the community in which they farm is a strength of the industry they’re in.
“Some folks travel 60 to 100 miles to pick their own grapes on the farm. We hear their stories and tell them about the farm/vineyard,” says a Midwest grower in operation for more than 10 years. “Helping people learn the benefits of juice, jelly, and wine from grapes they pick is fun for us and a benefit to our community.”
This is echoed by a grower in the Northwest in operation for more than 25 years who says his family’s roots are a selling point. ‘[We have a] strong connection to the community.”