Interesting and informative blog posts on farmers and ranchers from US Farm Data.

making-money-on-your-farm-comes-in-many-forms

Most people don’t go into farming to get rich. That doesn’t mean farmers wouldn’t like to be able to make a healthy living and not worry about shrinking profit margins year after year. In fact, in order to stay afloat financially, many farmers take second jobs to make ends meet.

While most farmers who work a second job must go off their farm to find that extra income, there are other options. It just takes a little creativity. Today, many farmers are taking advantage of their land and agricultural experience to create an agricultural business that complements their current farming operation.

What follows are some non-traditional businesses that are cropping up on farms across the country:

Pick Your Own Produce: Today’s consumers want to know where their food comes from and that it is as fresh as possible. This has led many farmers to open their farms to people who want to pick their own fruits and vegetables. One added benefit of such an operation is that the labor required at harvest time is drastically reduced. Your customers literally do the work for you.

Agricultural Tourism: Open your farmhouse doors to guests who want to experience what it is like on a real working farm. These types of beds and breakfasts are popping up all over the country and their popularity continues to grow. You can offer as few or as many activities as you like, including things like horseback riding, milking cows, planting and harvesting crops, and so much more. You can cater the experience to singles, couples or families.

Rental Property: Consider renting out your farm for things like weddings (farm-themed weddings are all the rage these days), company picnics, family reunions, bonfires and hay-rack rides. People and organizations are always looking for new and inviting places to gather and a farm is a great place to do just that.

Educational Workshops: Schools, daycares and other educational organizations are always on the lookout for field trips or other opportunities to teach their students or members about different ways of life. As a farmer, you can offer tours and classes on things like growing vegetables, raising backyard chickens or horseback riding. The ideas are as endless as your imagination.

Owning a farm means you are living a life many others want to experience. Capitalize on this and you may find yourself with a lucrative side business that can pay off big.

Cover crops and soil health are huge issues today. No matter where you turn, experts (and everyone else) are telling farmers how important it is that they plant cover crops.

Cover crops are used to reduce soil erosion. On flat open land, cover crops will protect against wind that can blow away nutrient-rich topsoil. In hilly, wet areas, cover crops will prevent water from washing away topsoil. In the spring, cover crops are tilled under or sprayed down before row crops are planted.

In addition to preventing soil erosion, cover crops benefit farmers and the environment in many other ways, including:

  • Increased soil fertility
  • Nutrient replenishment
  • Increased organic matter
  • Reduced water drainage
  • Weed control

In light of these advantages, some people may wonder why a farmer would ever choose not to plant cover crops. The fact is, however, that some do believe that they have legitimate reasons for deciding against cover crops.

Whether you agree or not, these farmers believe that planting cover crops doesn’t make financial sense. Farmers who are having a difficult time making ends meet simply can’t justify the costs involved in planting cover crops, especially when profit margins are already razor thin. Time is another factor. Depending on the size of the operation, some smaller farmers just don’t feel as if they can get it all done.

A survey by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation showed that in addition to the reasons listed above, there are other challenges farmers say they encounter when planting cover crops. Here are some of the major ones:

  • Cover crops become weeds the following year
  • Cover crops use too much soil moisture
  • There is a potential for yield reduction with cover crops
  • Cover crops increase insect potential
  • There may be a carbon to nitrogen ratio imbalance
  • Cover crops increase disease potential

No one would argue that cover crops are not beneficial to the soil or to the environment but neither is every farmer who doesn’t plant cover crops irresponsible. Farmers are concerned about the land and the environment. After all, those things are the source of their livelihood. If some farmers decide to forgo cover corps it is likely because they have decided that cover crops do not work for their particular farm or in their particular region. It does not, as some may say, have anything to do with whether or not they are good stewards of the land.

Marketing Your Small Ag Business

If you are a small Ag business owner, it can be difficult to know how to market your product or service most effectively. This is especially true if you aren’t sure who your perfect customer is.

Many small businesses mistakenly try to appear bigger rather than capitalizing on what they do best. In other words, instead of promoting what makes them unique and especially valuable to their niche customers, they try to be a jack of all trades.

Small businesses who excel at one thing need to take that one thing and run with it. So how do you market your Ag business to a niche market? Here are some things you need to ask yourself as you build your marketing plan:

  • Who are my customers? If you try to market to all farmers when your product or service works specifically for cattle farmers, for example, you will have a hard time selling that product or service over the long term. Even if you get customers initially, they will become dissatisfied and word will spread. This can irreparably damage your brand.
  • What do my customers need? If your unique product or service benefits hay producers, you need a marketing strategy that gets the word out to hay producers. These prospects need to know that your product will solve a problem they have, make their job easier or allow their operation to become more profitable.
  • Why should people buy from me? Make sure your niche market knows exactly why they should look to you instead of a larger competitor. What makes your business special? Outstanding customer service? A better-made product? Emphasize why it is worth the time and effort for customers to patronize your business.

While it may seem risky to concentrate on only one or a few products or services, this will pay off in the long run by helping you to establish a loyal customer base. Finally, once you have found your niche, that doesn’t mean you can sit back and relax. The most successful small business owners understand that they must always be looking for ways to improve their business. By doing so, they will not only keep their current customers happy, those customers will provide invaluable referrals, as well.

How to Market Your Small Farm in the Community

If you want to create a buzz about your small farming operation, it is important that you garner it some local online visibility. This can be achieved through things like a responsive website or being active on social media.

However, as every business owner knows, you never know where your sales leads may come from. That’s why if you are looking to promote your local produce business, it is important to market yourself out in the community, as well as online.

While it would be wonderful if you could afford print and broadcast ads, this is probably not financially feasible. So how can you get your business noticed in the community without spending a lot of money? Here are three simple ideas that will help you to get the word out about your business:

  1. Join a cooperative. A cooperative offers larger clients the convenience of buying from a single source. When you work as part of a cooperative, your produce can be sold to larger institutions, such as schools, whose needs you would not be able to meet on your own. Further, many cooperatives have a spokesperson that helps to market its members.
  2. Make a stand. While it may seem like small potatoes, a roadside stand can really help to increase your visibility in the community. Such a stand also will allow you to avoid fees that come with most farmers markets. You may be surprised at the number of visitors your stand attracts and, if your produce is outstanding and your service top-notch, how quickly word of your business spreads throughout the community.
  3. Go restaurant-hopping. Many local restaurants are searching for local produce to use when preparing their menu items. Visiting local chefs and restaurants and providing them with a list of produce you can provide is a great way to sell your homegrown items. Many restaurants will even list your farm on their menu, which gets your name out in the community and allows people to sample your produce.

While your agricultural operation may be small, it doesn’t need to stay that way. By promoting your business online and offline, you may be surprised at how quickly word spreads about your homegrown merchandise.

The marketing world can have a huge impact on what consumers consume. Take red meat for example. After being shunned for the last decade or so by many people looking for what they consider healthier protein options—mainly chicken and turkey—red meat is seeing a resurgence.

Leslie Patton of Bloomberg writes that several new menu items at restaurant chains, as well as the growing popularity of more protein-centric diets such as the Paleo Diet, are helping to turn the tide. Many upscale eateries also are jumping on the red meat bandwagon, offering exotic variations on red meat to entice patrons to choose it for their main course.

Patton’s article, Red Meat, It’s What’s for Dinner Again, cites data from the USDA that says that Americans will eat an estimated 54.3 pounds of the red meat in 2016—the first increase since 2006 and almost half a pound more per person than last year.

It’s more than just protein-centric diets and new menu items that are turning the tide back toward red meat. Lower prices also are contributing to the trend.

At the start of 2014, U.S. cattle supplies were the lowest in more than six decades after years of drought in the South and Southwest. The shortage sent beef prices surging to records. Since then, ranchers have been able to raise more cattle, and the latest USDA numbers show herds at a five-year high.

That’s helping to drive prices down. In February, a pound of uncooked ground beef retailed for $4.38, about 7 percent below a year ago, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

All of this proves that the power of marketing, combined with some good deals, can have a huge impact on the AG industry.

 

Social Media Crucial to Ag-Based Businesses

It might come as a surprise to many Ag business owners, but social media can drastically increase their number of sales leads. The key is to understand what specific aspects of social media to concentrate on. After all, social media is a broad term that encompasses many different things.

In order to make sure that your social media strategy is as effective as possible, it is important that you concentrate on what is hot right now in the world of social media. So what is hot? The following list outlines it for you:

Social Signals: When people share your content, it sends more traffic to your website. More traffic, means a higher SEO ranking. So while social media doesn’t directly affect your SEO, without it your SEO can certainly suffer. The takeaway? Organic, high-quality content is more important than ever.

Mobile Traffic: Last year, mobile traffic among farmers and ranchers overtook desktop traffic in the United States and its usage shows no signs of slowing. Think of all of the time farmers and ranchers spend away from their desks and it is easy to see why mobile is so popular with them. If it isn’t already, mobile needs to be one of your highest priorities.

Data-Driven Targeting: With all of the valuable insights that can be gained through social media analytics and other reporting tools, there is simply no excuse for not personalizing your marketing message to every one of your agriculture leads. Make no mistake, your competition is approaching the same farmers and ranchers that you are—and chances are they are doing it with a personalized message. Make sure you don’t lose farmers and ranchers who feel another company knows them better.

Engagement Matters: Research shows that social media influences customers’ buying decisions even more than retail websites. Further, the more engaged your customers are on your social media sites, the greater your sales numbers. That’s why it is so important that you work to make your social media sites commerce-driven. While buying over social media is still in its infancy, the day will come when you will need to implement such strategies. Until then, engaging farmers and ranchers via social media about your products and services will make the inevitable transition much smoother.

Social media has endless potential but it requires a great deal of time and attention to do it right. This is time well spent, however, as the potential payoff is huge.