The “Creating resources to increase collaborative marketing impacts for direct marketers” project implemented by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County set out to better understand what resources exist to support current direct marketing farms looking to collaboratively market their products, and create tools and resources which might not exist. These would then give farms a better “toolbox” to evaluate whether a collaborative marketing relationship is for them and worth pursuing on either a short or long-term basis.
Through the project we learned that few resources exist for collaborative marketing of farm products. Much exists for cooperative marketing, but not collaborative. Tools and resources were created for use by partner farms. Best practices were determined after trials of the tools. All resources, tools and best practices created were housed on a page on the CCE-Broome website.
The impact of participation by partner farms was illustrated by case studies written by the project leader. These can be used to showcase how four different farms used the tools to evaluate their collaborative marketing relationships in a more business-like manner.
Outreach occurred to both farms and Extension educators through a variety of means, including panel presentations, workshops and a curriculum which was developed and delivered as part of a larger wholesale education curriculum for small to mid-scale farms exploring the idea of wholesale as a market channel.
While much information has been written about cooperative marketing, collaborative marketing is a different animal. By way of definition:
Cooperatives are businesses owned and controlled by the people who use them. Cooperatives differ from other businesses because they are member owned and operate for the mutual benefit of members. Like other businesses, most cooperatives are incorporated under State law. (National Council of Farmer Cooperatives)
– Types: Marketing, Bargaining, Supply, Credit
Collaborative Marketing, in a nutshell, is the process of sharing resources to increase leads, brand, and influence. (Forbes Magazine)
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County proposed a holistic approach to creating a collaborative marketing support system in Broome County and across New York State. This occurred through in-person intensive advisory sessions, creation and trial of evaluation documents, and an online resource center for those not participating in the project. We met with groups of producers looking to start (or continue) collaborative marketing relationships and advised them on best options and next steps. This included information on how to evaluate potential collaborations, economic forecasting for proposed collaborative marketing options, and creation of an online resource center for collaborative marketing. Literature reviews to date have revealed little data exists to help guide these discussions so case studies, sample agreements and an economic forecast tool were created in the first portion of the project and trialed for usefulness in the second phase. Additionally, case studies are often a very good way to explore and illustrate challenges and proposed solutions for this type of issue. Currently no case studies exist so through this project several were developed which will guide those in the future asking these questions.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County used a “building” approach in this project to address the challenges outlined in the introduction. The first phase (year one) was to build the infrastructure for information collection and evaluation by farms, set baseline data after in-person, in-depth interviews with partner farms, and then creation of materials for the farms to trial for evaluating relationships (existing and potential). The following activities occurred:
- Spring 2014:
- Literature review was conducted for existing case studies, sample collaborative farm marketing agreements, tools for evaluating collaborative marketing relationships, etc… –> It was discovered that while some of these existed for traditional business nothing currently existed that was aimed directly at collaboratively marketing. It should also be stated that collaborative marketing is not the same as cooperative marketing, of which there is alot of data and support around already. The Growing for Market publication was part of the literature review process, but did not yield any helpful results.
- Project leader met with partner farms for in-person, in-depth interviews to get a benchmark for what collaborative marketing activities they were already doing, what they had goals for, and what resources they would find most useful.
- Project leader created draft agreements for use by partner farms and a checklist tool for evaluating collaborative marketing relationships
- Originally anticipated was also creating data points for an economic forecasting tool as well as a statewide survey to determine what resources would be most useful for farms –> The first proved more difficult to implement than anticipated but can be revisited in a later project. The second was addressed on a smaller scale with participating partner farms in the project as it was considered a good sample to represent the larger group.
- Summer 2014:
- Partner farms were given the sample collaborative marketing agreements and checklist for relationship evaluation to trial and then report back on usefulness.
- Project leader started meeting with interested producers/producer groups in pursuing collaborative marketing, or those currently collaboratively marketing (4-6 total) –> Five partner farms were met with in the Spring 2014.
- Winter 2014:
- The project leader created a page on the existing Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County website to house all resources created and talk about the project as a first step in outreach for the project
- The project leader worked with the partner farms to evaluate the usefulness of the sample, several changes were suggested which were worked into the final version of the documents
- Originally in the workplan was to write 1-2 case studies, but it was discovered more time was needed gain enough information so this was pushed to year 2.
- There was a slight break in the project timeline from December 2014-February 2015 while the project leader was on maternity leave.
Phase Two took place in year two of the project. It consisted on continued meetings with partner farms and interested groups of producers. It also was when outreach occurred.
- Winter 2015:
- There was a slight break in the project timeline from December 2014-February 2015 while the project leader was on leave.
- Spring 2015
- Project leader followed up with all partner farms to see if their collaborative marketing goals had changed for this year and had a check in.
- Summer 2015:
- Project leader met with the Southern Tier Beekeepers, a local/regional group of beekeepers interested in learning more about how they could start to collaboratively market their honey through wholesale channels. (30+ in attendance)
- Fall 2015:
- Project leader hosted a set of panel discussions with collaborative marketing farms across NYS as part of the Cornell University Strategic Marketing Conference with lessons learned, best practices, etc… (over 80 farmers and Extension Educators in attendance)
- Project leader hosted a workshop at the Cornell University Agriculture In-Service focused on this project with over 45 Extension educators in attendance
- Winter 2015:
- Project leader wrote 4 case studies on participating farms. There were originally 5 partner farms in the project, but during year one, one of the farms dropped out and we were unable to find a suitable replacement.
- Spring 2016
- The project leader wrote and delivered part of the curriculum for the “Baskets to Pallets: 18 lesson plans to prepare small and mid-scale farms to enter food hubs, groceries, restaurants and cooperatives” focused on the information gathered in this project. It is included in the outreach section. There were over 40 farmers and Extension educators in the room.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County utilized the following methods during the project: in-person, intensive, advisory sessions were used when meeting with producers, or groups of producers, who are either looking to start marketing collaboratively, or are currently marketing collaboratively. This was done to ensure engagement from all parties involved; through face-to-face conversations little will be left up to the interpretation that is easily disguised through email or phone, which is often how these relationships are started. These in-person meetings allowed for follow up questions and additional explanations right when questions where asked to have the most clear and correct information for benchmarking and writing the case studies.
Additionally, by utilizing the created checklists for evaluating relationships and sample contracts, farms were forced to put “pen to paper” helps make things “real” and more understandable. Many of the farms we interacted with stated that they still are doing business based on relationships and trust among their fellow farmers so many of these resources, while good, will not be the final determinant on whether to continue a relationship.
Little data and literature existed dedicated to this topic so the opportunity to facilitate conversations,
create literature, case studies, data points/set, and more to inform future research and the dissemination of the
information not only through our county, but the region, statewide and nationwide. Everywhere we have presented the feedback received has shown that the information is timely and necessary to help bring farms to the next level of professionalism when transitioning to a more wholesale market channel.
The “Creating resources to increase collaborative marketing impacts for direct marketers” project was the first of it’s kind across New York State to explore the specific needs that farms assessing whether collaborative marketing fits their operation and create associated resources to give farms the tools to make an informed decision. These tools came in the form of a checklist for assessing fit with another farm to collaborate with, a sample contract to use with another farm, and a questionnaire to gather information for farms to use in forming a collaborative. Both Extension educators and farms felt that these resources and tools were desperately needed and would equip farms with tools to make more informed, business-led decisions, as opposed to the traditional “done on a smile and a handshake” way to doing business in the agricultural industry. Case studies were created to illustrate the impacts of partner farms on participating in the project and changing their approach to collaborative marketing by using the tools and resources created. Finally, curriculum was written to include these resources and best practices learned, as part of a larger curriculum overseen by the Cornell Small Farms Program, and taught as part of a larger curriculum, so that the information could be accessed by a larger audience across the state, the region and the country.
One specific piece of the original workplan (the economic impact tool) was not accomplished due to several factors:
- In speaking with Cornell University faculty it was determined it was much larger than the original project anticipated would require more resources than available –> this will be tabled for a future application
Our project focused on creation of resources, testing of the resources and dissemination of the information. Extension professional rated the information “useful” on a scale of very useful, useful, not useful during trainings. The impact on our partner farms can be seen in the case studies, included in the outreach section of this report. Farm level impacts included:
- One livestock farm started a collaborative relationship with another farm in their area for calves, purchasing 7-8 calves/year; the farm did not want the expense of keeping bred cows and raising babies for a year.
- Another farm dropped a collaborative marketing relationship after using the checklist and other resources provided.
- A third farm dropped one store, but added four more with an increase in income of $2000. She is also investigating creating a coop of honey producers in the region to collaboratively market their honey.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
There was no additional economic analysis attempted as part of this project. Farms were not interested in utilizing the market channel assessment as they were not participating in enough different market channels for it to make sense (farms should be participating in at least 4 different marketing channels for this tool to be helpful and most are only doing 2-3).
Our partner farms all had very different experiences in collaborative marketing throughout the project. The case studies can be used to showcase their different approaches and the impact of using the resources, changing practices and doing more economic evaluation of their collaborative marketing relationships. Four farms finished participation in the project and these are their case studies.
Areas needing additional study
An original piece of the project proposed to look at creation of an economic impact tool for farms to use to run real numbers to determine if a collaborative marketing relationship could work using benchmark numbers gathered from across the state and various commodities. This was not accomplished during the grant and so could be an additional area of study for a future application.