Developing successful direct marketing strategies for agricultural producers in Washington County

Final Report for ONE03-014

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2003: $9,997.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Paula Schafer
Cornell Cooperative Extension
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Project Information


Agricultural producer interest in direct marketing is growing, and the Developing Successful Direct Marketing Strategies for Agricultural Producers in Washington County project has identified and supported farmers who were interested in adopting new techniques. Ongoing efforts through programs were supplemented by the creation of a county farm guide that lists farms, products, contact information, and other information for consumers.

The farm guide publication was and still is being distributed at farmers’ markets, festivals, through tourism offices, and on a website. Results were tracked through changes in sales and farmer feedback, and will be reported in the agricultural media.

Project Objectives:

The objectives of the project were as follows:
Identify farms in Washington County – in order to help producers develop successful marketing strategies, producers interested in direct marketing were identified.

Provide Direct Marketing Programs – three programs were planned and implemented to increase the knowledge of direct marketing of producers. The Recipe to Market Program, Farmer to Restaurant Networking Day, and the Fundamentals of Part Time Farming.

Produce a Washington County Farm guide – a free marketing tool for producers was created and distributed to the public.


Materials and methods:

The project leader hosted, planned and implemented three educational programs for area agricultural producers. On February 8, 2003 the Recipe to Market program was presented by the Northeast Center for Food Entrepreneurship. Fifty aspiring food entrepreneurs from the Capital District area attend the one-day seminar providing them with knowledge of critical issues needed before launching a food processing business. Most participants were agricultural producers looking to create value added products to sell through direct marketing sales.

Since the Recipe to Market program, a group of volunteers has emerged from the class participants to develop a shared use commercial kitchen. The group is in the process of forming an organization called the Battenkill Community Kitchen. A kitchen became available at the former Washington County Jail site, in Salem, New York when the county built a new jail and vacated the facility. It is hoped a shared use commercial kitchen will be available to the agricultural community in the months to come.

On March 24, 2003 the Farm to Restaurant Networking Day provided valuable time and education for farmers to direct market their products to interested local restaurants. 9 area restaurants and 32 producers attended the day and made valuable business connections. The 2004 event has been scheduled for February and will expand by farms having display booths.

On April 12, 2003, the Fundamentals of Part Time Farming program educated approximately 50 current and new agricultural producers on various marketing strategies and farm equipment. The day’s program included on-site visits and discussion at a local tractor equipment dealer, a sheep dairy farm, a beef farm, a roadside farm stand, and a retail farmstore.

Identify Washington County Farms
To identify farms in Washington County interested in direct marketing, a survey was sent to the existing Cornell Cooperative Extension mailing list and a news release recruiting additional farmers. 112 of the 122 farms responding to the survey checked they would like to be included in the new farm guide.

After the survey information as inputted in to the computer, the working committee of farmers Meg Southlerland, Carl and Diana Deppe, Winifred Getty, and David Campbell along with community members Cathy Hamlin, Washington County Department of Planning and Community Development; Marjorie Mohn, Washington County Tourism Promotion Administrator; Sharon Bozovsky, local writer; and Colleen Converse and Emily Schmidt from Cornell Cooperative Extension came together at multiple meetings to create, design, edit, and proof the new farm guide. 20,000 copies of the guide were professionally laid out and printed by Printmates in Scotia, New York.
The Farm Guide features a short farm description for each farm, a full county locator map, Washington County agricultural facts, a list of yearly agricultural events, information on how to buy local products, and tips on how to use the guide. The cover showcases an original artwork done by Washington County folk artist Will Moses which was donated to the project.
A special unveiling of the farm guide was orchestrated at the opening evening of the Washington County Fair. Those attending the unveiling included the working committee, various farms included in the guide, Cooperative Extension staff, the general public, multiple Washington County town supervisors, Assemblyman Roy McDonald, Senator Betty Little, and NYS Ag and Markets Commissioner, Nathan Rudgers.

To promote the farm guide at the fair, a display board was created showcasing 10 farms from the guide. One on one interviews were done to create a short caption and a photo of the farm on how the farm was growing in agriculture, which was the theme of the Ag Center building.

Pre and post publicity was done to promote the new farm guide. See the Publications/Outreach section and copies of the media works in the hard copy of this report.

Over 1,500 farm guides were distributed at the County Fair alone. Since August, the guide has and continues to be distributed at farms, farmers’ markets, community places, tourism sites, at CCE programs, and on the website. The farm guides are being distributed free of charge to the public.

Research conclusions:

CCE had an impact by sharing information and education with new and current producers to expand their knowledge in marketing and farming practices through the direct marketing programs offered. The number of participants in our programs were: Recipe to Market ¡V 50 participants, Farmer to Restaurant Networking Day ¡V 32 participants, and Fundamentals of Part Time Farming ¡V 50 participants. Producers participating could investigate new ideas to make their agricultural business productive and profitable.

There are approximately 738 farms in Washington County according to New York Agricultural
Statistics Service. An outcome of the project was 112 farms were included in the new Washington County Farm guide, which is 15% of the farms in the county.

Survey Results
To begin the project a survey was sent to a large CCE mailing list including dairy, livestock, horticulture, maple, horse, vegetable, and fruit producers in the county. The Washington County Agricultural Survey gave producers the option to provide important information about their farm and chose to be included in the farm guide. A total of 122 farms returned the survey with 112 farms choosing to be included in the farm guide and 10 provided information but chose not to be included in the farm guide.

The following results were concluded from the 122 farms that completed the survey.
Most of the farms types were dairy with 22 farms.
Cows were the most common type of animals on the farms with 28 farms saying dairy and 29 saying heifers.
Forty-eight farms said they grew seasonal vegetables.
Apples were the most commonly grown fruit but a variety of berries were noted.
Hay was grown on 41 farms.
Christmas trees and maple syrup were the most common woodland product produced.
Compost was most noted for other types of products on the farm.
Farms growing horticulture products grew a variety of plants with 23 farms growing annual flowers.
The most common specialty product noted was meat.
Few farms offered services. Services may be an opportunity for farms to explore.
Farm tours were the most common farm venture named, but 85% do not charge for tours and 60% are interested in providing tours.
Fairs, festivals, and events were the most commonly named resource opportunity offered.
94% of the farms are not certified organic.
Most farms in the guide were established between 1980-1989.
Forty-nine farms have 0-50 acres in production and 33 farms have 0-50 acres they own or rent.
Gaining marketing knowledge and experience for producers was by attending conferences & programs, networking with other farmers, reading ag publications, and their years of farm marketing experience.
The most common direct marketing producers were currently engaged in was word of mouth.
$10,000 - $25,000 was the most common approximate farm sale range for producers.
Thirty-two percent said 100% of their business is wholesale and thirty percent said 100% of their business is retail.
Twenty farms only have one full time employee but 52 farms said they have 1 to 10 part time or seasonal employees.
A complete summary of the results can be found in the hard copy of the report.

After the farm guide began to be distributed and the direct marketing classes were completed a post agricultural marketing survey was sent to all 112 farms that were included in the farm guide. Thirty-six of the surveys were returned, a 32% return rate. Of the 36 surveys, 2 had attended the Recipe to Market class, 5 had attended the Farm to Restaurant Networking Day, and 1 had attended the Fundamentals of Part Time Farming class.

The post survey questions were based on their farm being included in the Washington County Farm guide or their attendance at one of the three marketing programs (Recipe to Market, Farm to Restaurant Networking Day, or Fundamentals of Part Time Farming). The following questions show by participating, most farmers had a positive experience and had learned new ideas and information:

54% agreed their knowledge of marketing opportunities available had increased (27% disagreed, 24% did not know).
39% agreed their marketing knowledge and experience as a producer had changed (37% disagreed, 24% did not know).
68% agreed they were or planned to begin incorporating new direct marketing practices to their farm business (16% disagreed, 16% did not know).
62% agreed being a part of the farm guide enhanced their marketing efforts (8% disagreed, 30% did not know).

The following questions show the farm guide was not available long enough at the time of the survey to make a large impact on their businesses:

23% agreed their farm business had seen an increase in farm sales (39% disagreed, 38% did not know).
29% agreed seeing an increase in customers and/or visitors to the farm (45% disagreed, 26% did not know).
21% agreed to seeing an increase in phone calls from potential customers (53% disagreed, 26% did not know).
26% agreed they had increased farm production due to an increase in demand from customers (66% disagreed, 8% did not know).

The following questions show that farmers are evaluating their business based on what they learned at the programs or being included in the farm guide:

69% agreed they had or were planning to make changes to their farming practices next year (18% disagreed, 13% did not know).
21% agreed their business had or plans to increase the number of employees (56% disagree, 23% did not know).
47% agreed it was the first time their farm had direct marketing exposure on the internet by the farm guide being on CCE¡¦s website (48% disagreed, 5% did not know).
A complete summary of the results can be found in the hard copy of the report.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

This is a summary of publications and outreach completed to produce the farm guide. See a copy of these articles and news releases in the hard copy of this final report.
News releases published in area newspapers:
CCE Receives Grant-Farmers Sought For New Farm Guide news release
Agriculture Survey Due Back By May 23 article
Pre-fair publicity:
New Washington County Farm Guide To Be Unveiled news release
The Saratogian Kitchen Cabinet article
Article in the Washington County Fair Official Program
Post publicity:
Washington County CCE Ag Digest, September/October 2003 issue – cover story
Agricultural News, October 2003 issue– cover story
News release published in area newspapers

1,500 farm guides were distributed at the Washington County fair. Since the fair, 23 farms and 31 community places and business have distributed the guide. Early in the spring of 2004 another push to distribute more farm guides will occur.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Farmer Adoption

The overall feeling based on comments written on the surveys were farmers were very pleased and excited about being included in the farm guide or attending the direct marketing programs. In the future, when a new farm guide is needed, I believe we will have even more producers who want to be included because they saw the positive impact the guide had on the farming community in the county and the professional look to the guide.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

The guide was unveiled and began being distributed on August 18. The post survey was mailed to farms included in the guide on September 25 in order to complete the grant project by the end of the year. The survey was sent too early to fully evaluate the impact the new farm guide will have on participating agricultural businesses. To measure true impact of the farm guide, I feel it would be necessary to evaluate the farms again in six months after the guide can fully affect all commodity areas included. For example, Christmas tree farms who have completed the survey have not felt the effects of the marketing power of the farm guide due to their season has not yet occurred.

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.