Increasing the Effectiveness of Field Agent Response to Producer Requests for Alternative Marketing Assistance

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2004: $95,939.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, farmer to farmer, networking
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning, new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, marketing management, market study, risk management, value added
  • Production Systems: holistic management

    Proposal abstract:

    Objectives: 1. To increase the ability of field agents to provide well-informed initial responses to producers asking for advice and assistance with alternative marketing, and to refer them to the most suited specialists in the region (the fewest steps to the person who can actually help the producer). 2. To help specialists and field agents better understand the unique needs of small-scale and minority producers relating to alternative marketing. 3. To allow specialists and agents to establish familiarity and good working relationships across state and reservation borders in order to maximize the alternative marketing resources available to producers throughout the region. Justification: Expertise in alternative marketing is considerable and continues to increase in Extension and other organizations in the Four Corners states. Yet, a significant number of field agents—Extension, as well as NRCS, NGOs, and others with direct contact with producers, feel that they have little depth to their marketing knowledge, especially for alternative marketing, so they quickly refer producers to whatever marketing specialists they know of. This initial contact is a critical point for the potential alternative marketer—-a point at which they are best served by well-informed initial guidance from the agent and the most direct referral to the specialist (wherever they may be) that can help them most. The aim of this project is to make this interaction among producers, agents, and specialists more informed and effective. Toward this aim, NCAT, a nonprofit with a history of successful national and regional sustainable agriculture projects and partnerships, proposes a 4-state, 2-year training collaboration involving diverse governmental, educational, NGO, and tribal entities. Methods: This two-year project will build on the already established Southwest Marketing Network—-a Kellogg/NCAT project to support alternative marketing in the Four Corner States. A conference will be held each year to increase agents’ alternative marketing knowledge, build capacity to respond to inquiries, and establish working relationships among agents, specialists, and producers. Working sessions on key marketing topics will be chosen by the “Planning Team” (project staff and state coordinators). Electronic communications among participants would be established and continued throughout the two years to maintain continuity in the discussions and learning. A guide to responding to requests for alternative marketing assistance will be prepared from the findings of the work sessions, disseminated widely, and posted on the SW Marketing Network (SWMN) website as a training module. Participants would be selected in conjunction with the state Extension coordinators with help from the SWMN Steering Committee and others. Our audience would cover the greatest possible diversity of expertise, geography, ethnicity, and production while keeping the group to a workable size. We are planning for 40 field agents, 16 subject area specialists, and 12 producer-marketers from the four states and the tribes in the region. Evaluation: Baseline data would be gathered from participants at the beginning of each year, with a second survey at the conclusion of each year to gauge the outcomes. Survey questions will focus on the three objectives, and will elicit suggestions for improving the project activities. Mail and e-mail surveys would be used and would be developed and analyzed by project staff with guidance from the Planning Team.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    D. Outputs

    1. Audience

    The participants would be selected in conjunction with the state Extension coordinators with help from the SWMN Steering Committee and other key Network collaborators. As seen below, our targeted participants would cover as much diversity of expertise, geography, ethnicity, and production type as possible while keeping the group to a workable size. The SWMN Steering Committee has members who can help ensure the involvement of Native American, Hispanic, and other minorities, and we have been in contact with each of the four 1994 Land Grants in our region to involve them as trainers and learners (see support letters from John Blueyes and Beverly Allen). The requested budget would cover nearly all conference expenses for attendees along with a travel stipend to help cover out-of-pocket costs. This is essential in light of organizational budgets and should help ensure the diversity we seek.

    a) 40 Field Agents (those with routine direct contact with producers): 5 Extension agents per state plus 8 Native American agents; 3 other field agents (NGO, NRCS, and others) per state

    b) 16 Specialists from 1862 and 1994 land grant institutions, tribes, and NGOs: 2 alternative marketing, 1 nutrition, and 1 business skills and financing per state

    c) 12 Producer-Marketers with a diversity of marketing expertise: 2 per state plus 4 Native American producers

    d) Total targeted participants: 68

    2. Activities and Methods

    a. An Annual Working Meeting will be held in each of the two project years as a forum for field agents and specialists to establish working relationships as they explore alternative marketing needs, resources, and potential strategies in the region. Working sessions would be on key marketing topics and tours of producer-marketer operations would be included as much as possible. Planning will be conducted by the “Planning Team” consisting of the project staff and state coordinators as listed in the “Major Participants” section.

    To get the most from the face-to-face sessions, participants would be identified a few months before the sessions and would be surveyed and given materials to help them prepare for the discussion topics. Similarly, follow-up materials and would be sent after the annual work sessions. In this way there would be continuity throughout most of the two-year project period. See “Timetable” section for more details.

    Discussion topics will be finalized after participants are selected and surveyed for their needs, but will likely include topics such as: 1) unique needs of small-scale and minority producers with regard to alternative marketing assistance (co-ops, business planning and management skills, special financial needs, etc.); 2) alternative meat marketing (especially grass-fed and organic); 3) value-added (especially on-farm and small-scale); and 4) fresh fruits and vegetables (direct sales, co-op marketing, and transport, etc).

    b. Electronic communications among participants would be continued throughout the two years to maintain continuity in the discussions and learning. In addition to the preparations for the annual conferences, and follow-up afterwards, e-mail messages and mailings will keep participants abreast of new resources, events, and organizational developments within Extension and other service organizations pertinent to the project. Participants would be encouraged to share their comments with others via e-mail.

    c. A guide to responding to the requests for alternative marketing assistance will be prepared from the findings of the work sessions, and posted on the SWMN website as a training module. (See “Products” section below for details.)

    3. Products

    a. Guidebook: The most tangible product from this project will be a “Guide to Providing Alternative Marketing Assistance to Small-Scale and Minority Producers.” This guide would provide practical information and resources for Extension and other field agents and specialists on how to deal most effectively with requests for alternative marketing assistance. As seen in the activities section above, the project participants will be helping provide the material for this guidebook through their participation in the conference work sessions and follow-up reviews. Perspectives from the producers, agents, and specialists will be included. A preliminary guide would be developed from the first year’s activities, and refined into a final product by Year 2 participants.

    b. Dissemination: The preliminary guide would go to Year 1 participants, service provider organizations including Extension for distribution to their members, and to prospective Year 2 participants. The final guidebook would be distributed more widely throughout the region, especially to agents and to Extension offices that can use it in future trainings. Since we believe this guide will have a more universal applicability, it will be made available to organizations outside the region as well. In both years, the guide will be posted on the SWMN website in pdf format so that service organizations, agencies, and individuals can printout a version for their use and for further distribution. The guide’s availability would be noted in the SWMN newsletter serving over 3,200 regional clients.

    c. Web-based Training Module: This guide would become part of a training module on the SWMN website. Currently in development and planned are other training modules on topics such as farmers markets, beef marketing, and product labeling. These modules are designed to serve as stand-alone practical guides for service providers and producers, and will provide online instruction coupled with navigation aids to the best resources on the Internet.

    E. Outcomes

    1. At least 75% of the participating agents indicate that as a result of this project, they are: a) better prepared to respond to producer inquiries about alternative marketing; b) better able to refer producers to a specialist who they are confident can help the producer; and c) better understand the special needs of small-scale and minority producers. (short-term outcome)

    2. At least 75% of the participating specialists report that they: a) better understand the needs of small-scale and minority producers; and b) are aware of specialists in other parts of the region whose expertise can complement their own. (short-term outcome)

    3. At least 75% of the participating producers report that they believe participating agents and specialists will be better able to assist fellow producers as a result of this project. (short-term outcome)

    4. At the end of the two-year project, Year 1 participating agents will be able to document assistance they have provided to producers that they believe was enhanced by this project. (medium-term outcome)

    5. Longer-term benefits expected from this project include: a) alternative marketing is increasingly seen as a viable tool for achieving financial sustainability; b) institutions in the region are seen as more responsive to small-scale, minority, and alternative producers needs; and c) alternative marketing brings greater rewards in the marketplace for producers pursuing environmentally and socially responsible production methods.

    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.