Farmer Marketing Information Coops

Final Report for LNC96-110

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1996: $22,390.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2000
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $21,480.00
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Jerry Jost
Kansas Rural Center
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Project Information

Summary:

The Farmer Marketing Information Co-ops project organized long-distance study circles to investigate farm-to-town markets. In order to better balance ecological farming practices with farm profitability, farmers need alternative markets that help them take back the economic middle in agriculture. Four information co-ops were organized around marketing of pastured poultry, grass-fed beef, organic grains and lamb.

This project advanced farmer marketing of locally-grown, farm-fresh products. These farmer information co-ops shared learning on customer identification, customer relations, regulations, accounting, advertising, special events, packaging, labels, production claims, partnering with a processor, pricing, ethnic markets, distribution, quality control, and sales. Thirty-four participating farmers from ten states shared in a series of nineteen conference calls among their peers in distance learning.

These co-ops also improved marketing skills through mentoring relationships. The conference calls involved fifteen mentor marketers who coached farmers to improve marketing skills. These information co-ops organized six field trips to discuss and see how they can improve their marketing options.

“The conference calls were helpful in getting to know who the other producers were in my area. This helped establish relationships,” reflected one project participant. “There were a lot of good ideas thrown out and some of them I tried. Nothing is more valuable than sharing with others who are doing the same things … The field trip was a great cap off. And just as helpful was being in a car and hashing things out with other guys for 12 hours going and another 12 hours coming back.”

Four direct marketing guides were written to transfer the learning to other interested producers. These marketing guides on pastured poultry, grass-fed beef, organic grains and lamb are available through the Kansas Rural Center.

Introduction:

The Farmer Marketing Information Co-ops project organized long-distance study circles to learn how to best develop farm-to-town markets. In order to better balance ecological farming practices with farm profitability, farmers need alternative markets that help them take back the economic middle in agriculture. Four information co-ops were organized around marketing of pastured poultry, grass-fed beef, organic grains and lamb.

This project advanced farmer knowledge in the marketing of locally-grown, farm-fresh products. These farmer information co-ops shared learning on customer identification, customer relations, regulations, accounting, advertising, special events, packaging, labels, production claims, partnering with a processor, pricing, ethnic markets, distribution, quality control, and sales. Thirty-four participating farmers from ten states shared in a series of nineteen conference calls among their peers in distance learning.

These co-ops improved marketing skills through mentoring relationships. The conference calls involved fifteen mentor marketers who coached farmers to improve marketing skills. These information co-ops organized six field trips to visit a farm or market site and discuss how they can improve their marketing options.

Project Objectives:

1) Four farmer information co-ops were organized for the development of farm-to-town markets.
2) Marketing effectiveness was improved through mentor/apprentice relationships.
3) Four direct marketing guides were developed to transfer the learning from these information co-ops to the broader public.

Research

Materials and methods:

Four information co-ops were organized around the following farm products and technical questions. Each of the marketing information co-ops was guided by a coordinator. These individuals are listed below. Individuals that served as mentors are listed below.

  • Pastured Poultry – processing regulations, on-farm processing, portable pens, production, sources of inputs, management, pricing, developing an organized association of producers, customer relations, quality control, storage, distribution, marketing strategies, …
    Coordinator: David Wallace, Farmer and Veterinarian, Farm to Hand Alliance Heartland Network Cluster – 607 East Tenth Street, Minneapolis, KS 67467, 785- 392-3435.
    Mentors: Bev Sandlin, Box 112AA, Rollingstone, MN 55969, 507-689-2988. Patrick Slattery, W692 Hwy 33, Rockland, WI 54653, 608-486-2605. John Marquardt, 16809 Sneath Road, Richland Center, WI 53581, 608-538-3264.
    Field Visits: Tom Delehanty’s farm near Scorro, NM. Mel Hershey’s farm near St. Charles, MN. Michael Miller’s farm near Wonewoc, WI. John Mower’s farm near Chippewa Falls, WI.
  • Freezer Lamb – pricing, regulations, labeling, developing a customer base, forage-finishing, production, meat cuts, recipes, quality control, customer relations, storage, distribution, marketing strategies, …
    Coordinators: Laura Fortmeyer, Farmer, Route 1, Box 115, Fairview, KS 66425, 785-467-8041 and Pat Brehm, Farmer, 1946 1400 Avenue, Hope, KS 67451, 785-479-5849.
    Mentors: Connie Karstens, Liberty Land and Livestock, 61231 MN Hwy 7, Hutchinson, MN 55350-8020, 320-587-6094. Steve Pinnow, N5784 Johnson Road, Delavan, WI 53115, 414-728-9629. Nick Forrest, 4124 Hamilton-Richmond Road, Oxford, OH 45056, 513-523-1387. Mike Lorentz, Lorentz Meats, 305 W. Cannon Street, Cannon Falls, MN 55009, 507-263-3617.
    Field Visit: Connie Karstens and Doug Rathke’s farm near Hutchinson, MN.
  • Organic Grain – marketing strategies, quality control, pricing, storage, pooled transportation, coop member development, certification, coordination of planting intentions, data base development, …
    Coordinator: Earl Wright, Marketing Coordinator for Kansas Organic Producers Cooperative, P.O. Box 226, Council Grove, KS 66862, 316-767-7272.
    Mentors: Bill Heffernan, 106 Sociology Building, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65201. Gene Pullson, Heartland Organic Foods, Box 37, Rosholt, SD 57260, 605-537-4220. Linda Reinke, National Farmers Organization, 2505 Elwood Drive, Ames, IA 50010-2000, 712-779-3503.
    Convening Discussion: Exploratory discussion on developing a Marketing Agency in Common in Ames, IA.
  • Grass-fed Beef – production management and coordination, regulations, labeling, quality control, pricing, processing, meat cuts, co-op member development, customer relations, promotion, marketing strategies, …
    Coordinator: Jerry Jost, Kansas Rural Center, P.O. Box 113, Whiting, KS 66552, 785-873-3431.
    Mentor: Rick Habein, Habein Livestock Company, 47-5080 Hawaii Belt Road, PO Box 2919, Kamuela, HI 96743, 808-885-9646. Richard Sechrist, Homestead Beef, Box 184A, Fredricksburg, TX 78624, 830-997-2508.
    Convening Discussion: Kansas Sustainable Agriculture Roundup in Manhattan, KS.

Participants were recruited to create a constructive balance with beginning and seasoned marketing experience. The goal to have at least three different states and farmer organizations represented in each coop was achieved. Conference calls and field visits included a mentoring farmer with advanced marketing experience to enrich learning. Opportunities in the conference calls included non-farmers with specific expertise to benefit the participants. One such individual was Bill Heffernan to talk about consolidation in the food industry and alternative marketing schemes.

A brief written biographical introduction of each participant in a co-op was available to each member at the beginning of this project. A provocative article on a relevant subject and a written summary of the previous teleconference discussion were sent to conference call participants in preparation for the next learning session.

Each co-op conducted at least four conference calls. Each call averaged 1½ hours in length. Each teleconference call was taped for later reference and written materials. Conference calls also either transcribed or summarized for participants.

A coordinator in each co-op was contracted to implement the information coop. Their responsibilities included:

  • Coordinate and facilitate calls.

    Write up a summary of each call.

    Mail a provocative article to stimulate discussion before each call.

    Conduct mailings and reminder calls as necessary.

    Write up a final technical marketing guide based on their shared learning.

Each coop had $1,000 available to them to use as travel money for on-site learning. Any participant in these co-ops was able to apply for this travel money to visit a mentor farm, host a visit from a mentor farmer, or make an information gathering site visit. These face-to-face interactions facilitated extended learning and opportunities for building personal learning relationships that will extend beyond the life of this project.

Research results and discussion:
  • Pastured Poultry. Five conference calls involved 8 participants in 5 states. Five mentor marketers were included in the call to increase learning. Two field trips that visited four farms in three states were conducted. Nine producers were involved in these field trips. A marketing guide was published, distributed to all participants, and is enclosed with this report.

    Freezer Lamb. Six conference calls involved 11 people from three states. Four mentor marketers were included in the calls to increase learning. One field trip involving three producers was conducted. A marketing guide was published, distributed to all participants, and is enclosed with this report.

    Organic Grain. Three conference calls included 7 participants in 4 states. Three mentor marketers were included in these calls to increase learning. A planning meeting among 12 participants occurred in Ames, Iowa to initiate the development of the Marketing Agency in Common among organic grain producers in the north central region. A marketing guide was published, distributed to all participants, and is enclosed with this report.

    Grass-fed Beef. Four conference calls involved 8 participants in 7 states. Two mentors assisted with the conference calls. Four conference call participants gathered at the Kansas Sustainable Agriculture Roundup on Kansas State University campus in December, 1998 to discuss marketing grass-fed beef in a two-hour workshop. Peggy and Richard Sechrist, members of the co-op, gave the keynote address at the conference with an attendance of . 145 people and 35 people attended the two-hour workshop. A marketing guide was published, distributed to all participants, and is enclosed with this report.

Research conclusions:

This project stimulated direct, value-added marketing to improve farm profits that reward sustainable agriculture practices. It has deepened the understanding of marketing skills and management. For some, it has raised enthusiasm for direct marketing. For others, it has increased the interest in developing producer cooperatives to hire necessary marketing skills to promote the sale of sustainable agriculture products. In the case of the organic grain information co-op, it has created a personal network and forum to develop a Marketing Agency in Common for organic grains.

Economic Analysis

In the grass-fed beef marketing guide, a gross margin analysis calculation sheet was included to help producers calculate pricing. Other guides include pricing of a range of products.

Farmer Adoption

Farmers are involved in the planning, organizing, and implementation of this project. Thirty-four participating farmers shared in a series of nineteen conference calls among their peers in distance learning. The conference calls involved eight mentor farmer marketers who coached farmers to improve marketing skills. Direct marketing is challenging with a sharp learning curve. Often there is little opportunity for producers to learn from other producers in these niche markets. This learning experience has been very positive with cooperators.

Below are some exit interviews of participants in the project.

“It was helpful for me to look at marketing from a different perspective. The new insight into developing an ethic market was both very useful and valuable to us.” Frank Mabry, Valley Falls, KS.

“It was helpful for me to look at marketing from a different perspective. The new insight into developing an ethic market was both very useful and valuable to us.” Jeanie Fraas, Coleridge, NE.

“I was happy to find out what other people were doing.” Clark BreDahl, Greenfield, IA.

“The conference calls were helpful in getting to know who the other producers were in the area. This helped establish relationships … There were a lot of good ideas thrown out and some of them I tried. Nothing is more valuable than sharing with others who are doing the same things … The field trip was a great cap off. And just as helpful was being in a car and hashing things out with other guys for 12 hours going and another 12 hours coming back.” Dan Bennet, Ottawa, KS.

An important contribution revealed in the exit interviews were the personal network connections people made and maintained. Follow up contacts were made to other farmer participants and mentor marketers. One participant also connected his neighbor farmers with a mentor marketer. The direct, personal connections in the field trips added depth to learning. One of the participants had been in conversation with one of the mentor marketers about a delivery freezer truck. After the field trip visiting this mentor marketer, the farmer said, “Seeing it made the picture come very clear.” He went home and purchased a whole delivery freezer box for a 3/4 ton truck.

Involvement of Other Audiences

Farmers have been the principal audience. Presentations at the Kansas Sustainable Agriculture Roundups, the Alternative Agricultural Marketing conference in Lincoln, and distribution of the marketing guides expanded the project’s impact to the general public. This project has collaborated with the National Farmers Organization, Kansas Organic Producers Association, Heartland Organic Foods, University of Missouri, Kansas State University, a small independent seed company (Roberts Seeds), and Lorentz Meats.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Marketing guides for all four of the information co-ops are included with this report. They are listed below:

Jost, Jerry. 1999. Kansas Rural Center Sustainable Agriculture Management Guides: Marketing Grass-fed Beef. Publication MG6A.1. 7 pages.

Wright, Earl. 2000. Kansas Rural Center Sustainable Agriculture Management Guides: Marketing Organic Grain. Publication MG6B.1. 6 pages.

Brehm, Pat. 2000. Kansas Rural Center Sustainable Agriculture Management Guides: Direct Marketing Lamb. Publication MG6C.1. 8 pages.

Wallace, David. 2000. Kansas Rural Center Sustainable Agriculture Management Guides: Direct Marketing Pastured Poultry Products. Publication MG6D.1. 7 pages.

Announcements of these co-ops and the marketing guides have been distributed through the Kansas Rural Center’s Rural Papers newsletter. Three releases to regional agricultural papers have been released to announce the marketing guides. All four marketing guides were distributed to ATTRA. All of the four marketing guides were available at the Alternative Agricultural Marketing conference in Lincoln in November, 1999. Three participants in these conference calls presented information in the SARE conference workshops. A presentation from the grass-fed beef marketing information co-op was presented at the 1998 Kansas Sustainable Agriculture Roundup. Coordinators from the other three information co-ops presented their learnings at the Kansas Sustainable Agriculture Roundup in March, 2000.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

  • A self-guided planning curriculum that helps develop smaller farm marketing cooperatives. This curriculum should assist both with business planning and understanding the leadership and group dynamics necessary for a functioning cooperative.

    A tool to help calculate prices for meat cuts based upon farm production and marketing costs.

    Tools to help farmers build “win-win” partnerships with small town meat processing plants that improve the quality of meat products direct marketed.

    A “consumers report” type of assessment of home-based meat processing equipment and facilities.

    Economic enterprise budget sheets for direct marketed, sustainably raised meats.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.