Zero In On Farm Market Interest

Zero In On Farm Market Interest

Zero In On Market Interest

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What’s that “Field of Dreams” movie line again? All too frequently, that’s the way most new and many old-time farmers approach their business, too. It’s easy to assume that when seeds are planted, grown, and harvested, “they” will come to buy it, without ever asking first who “they” are, what “they” want to buy, or how much “they” might be willing to pay for it. That’s a risky way to start any business or launch a new product, and one of the biggest reasons that 65% of new products fail.

The Wrong Perspective
When I was first starting in Extension work, I would kid with the farmers here that I wouldn’t predict the weather or tell them which crops they should grow. I’ve come to realize that when they were asking about crops to grow, I was looking at it from the wrong perspective. It’s too easy to say which crops can grow and describe how to grow them, as these professional farmers can grow a great crop from any seed I might recommend.

Growing that crop profitably doesn’t depend on how well they grow it as much as how well they can identify the right buyers and put up the right pack for them. That’s usually the bigger challenge.

Along those lines, earlier this summer there was a question about what crop to grow for an organic Pick-Your-Own (PYO) operation posted for discussion among my colleagues. The quick reactions focused mostly on production issues, such as which crops were hardier and more pest resistant, accounting for the preference to grow organically. A great summary of the discussion was posted on our Sustaining Farming on
the Urban Fringe blog at http://sustainingfarminguf.blogspot.com/2013/08/farm-calls-which-fruit-crops-are-best.html.

However, while market saturation was considered in one response — as blueberries would be more challenging to sell PYO in the central part of the state due to the huge acreage of commercial production concentrated just a short drive to the south — no one questioned whether the grower had ever asked any potential customers if they even wanted or needed access to a new PYO option. Once again, the assumption was “grow it and they will come.”

Determine Interest
So, just ask and they might come. Finding out if “they” might come to buy is as simple, and as hard, as asking. If you’ll be selling directly to consumers, canvas the neighborhood and make some phone calls. It will take more than just the immediate neighborhood to support a market, so that’s where it gets a little tougher to reach out to the community. Community bulletin boards, online, in local media, and at local businesses and municipal buildings offer places to post an announcement and ask for responses.

Though coming at it from the consumer side of the market, a call from a local woman about starting a community farmers’ market generated the same questions, and advice: Have you asked your neighbors and the community merchants if they want a tailgate market in the center of town? Undeterred, she came back a few weeks later having secured 170 signatures on a petition supporting the concept of a new community farmers’ market and an appointment to make a presentation at the next merchants’ association meeting.

Wholesale grower-shippers need to take the same approach. Ask distributors, retailers, and processors if they would be interested in the particular product you’re considering. The list of questions should include:

  • How much volume would they use?
  • What stage should be harvested?         
  • What type of packaging would they require?
  • What food safety certification would be required? 
  • What price range would they expect to pay?

Arguably, I might harp on this a bit too much. Small business entrepreneurs rarely make this a formal process, and even fewer get it written down, but most do talk with potential customers to bounce ideas and get reactions. As a matter of fact, a casual conversation with the right person might provide as much or more valuable answers than an expensive, formal survey.  

Oh yeah. That line is “If you build it, he will come.”