Prairie Hills Marketing Network: Marketing for Producers in Northwest Kansas

Project Overview

FNC96-157
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1996: $9,962.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: sunflower, wheat, hay
  • Fruits: melons
  • Additional Plants: herbs, ornamentals
  • Animals: bovine

Practices

  • Animal Production: feed/forage
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking
  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, marketing management, market study, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, employment opportunities

    Summary:

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Six producers of a variety of products:
    1) Windmill Farms, Almena, KS. Greenhouse plants and herbs, 4/30’ x 90’ greenhouse. Dolye Baird and Lou Goldsby/owners have been certified organic in 1997.
    2) Grose Honey Farm, Notron, KS. Honey products from 200 hives, Gary Grose/owner.
    3) Pure Prairie Farm, Jennings, KS. Vegetables, herbs, Jim Rowh/owner has been certified organic since 1992 by OCIA
    4) Stephens Farm, Jennings, KS. Rosalia, Bryce and Linda Stephens/owners of 800 acres. Beef and grain are certified organic since 1995 by OCIA
    5) Hatband Herbs, Stockton, KS. Pat Thrasher/owner of 10 acres of herbs. Organic grower of Echinacea.
    6) Nature’s Garden, Terry Pitts, Sterling, KS. 10 acres of herbs, organic herb grower and processor.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
    From the original proposal:
    1) Identify markets for value added and horticulture products from Western Kansas
    2) Develop a cooperative transportation and distribution system
    3) Support a marketing contact person

    The original planning of the grant proposal took place between Jim Rowh, Dave Ebbert, and Greg Stephens. Dave Ebbert was a producer of bean sprouts marketed to Dillons Grocery Store in Hutchinson, and Greg Stephens is an interested party to the Stephens Farm of the grant participants.

    The process involved in conducting the grant became a process of evolution. Soon after the grant was awarded Dave Ebbert sold his sprout operation and was therefore no longer involved. The other six previously listed participants all had varying degrees of difficulty in marketing products, but a common transportation and distribution system became an insurmountable goal. The products, scattered markets, time of delivery, etc. did not lend themselves to a common mode of distribution. In reality, we were all (and still are to a great extent) searching for markets. This is the state of alternative agriculture, organic agriculture, and herb marketing today. Very few forward contacts are offered, although that situation has gotten better in the last three years. And since there are few local markets (outside of honey which can very successfully be marketed locally), by necessity all our producers had to “hit the road” to meetings, conventions, seminars, etc. to make contacts with potential buyers. In the herb and organic industry, just knowing and meeting people is the key to finding buyers and markets. The organic and herb industry are both infant markets – systems of supply, distribution, production, finance and delivery are all in their infancy stage and therefore there is no pattern or road map. A lot of trial and error guess work goes on, and a lot of mistakes are made. In addition, the general decline in agriculture value of most products over the last three years has affected our group and will continue to put all agriculture producers in a state of flux – we all need better prices for our products, availability of markets not withstanding.

    People who have been instrumental in helping with SARE grant, in addition to the producers already mentioned include:
    1) Greg Stephens, Salina, KS. Board member NFO, past board member Kansas Rural Center, Whiting, KS. Participant in Stephens Farm and Stephens Bros. LLC.
    2) Joe Mindrup, Norton, KS. Norton County Farmer and cluster shepherd for the Prairie Hills Cluster, a group of farmers of Norton and Decatur County who are studying issues of sustainability in agriculture.
    3) Keith VanSkike, Norton County Extension Agent. Keith has bee a good supporter of all our SARE grant and Prairie Hills Cluster activities. Keith also has served on the certification review committee of Kansas OCIA Chapter #3.
    4) Mike and Mary Balthazor, Hill city, KS. Mike works for Northwest Kansas Environmental Protection and Mary is the Librarian at Hill City Library. They have been great supporters and workers for all SARE grant activities and Prairie Hills activities.

    Results
    The results of some of the SARE grant activities will be listed according to each producer.

    Windmill Farm
    – Future prospects four-fold increase in production and sales
    – Status in 1996 – 1/30’ x 90’ greenhouse (tomato production only)
    – Status in 1999 – 4/30’ x 90’ greenhouses
    o Expansion in local market at the greenhouse in potted plants, perennials, herbs and dried flowers
    o Established several markets in outlying cities, including Denver and Lawrence, KS
    o Landscaping business to go along with their perennials

    Grose Honey Farm
    – Future prospects due to presence of mites in bee population, this production is variable and in jeopardy from year to year
    – Status in 1996 – 100 hives (limited local market)
    – Status in 1999 – 200 hives
    o Markets in general Kansas towns in Northwest Kansas from Concordia to Dodge City
    o Bulk honey sales to restaurants and packers
    o Comb honey production

    Stephens Farm
    – Future prospects should see much increased organic sales in years to come
    – Status in 1996 – limited wheat sales as certified organic. Note: hail destroyed most of crops in 99’, so no increase in marketing will be noted in 99’
    – Status in 1999 – finding more wheat markets, crops in general look better after four years of organic production
    o Sales of organic beef to Pure Prairie Natural Foods
    o Beginning production of Buffalo meat
    o Other crops available include sunflowers and alfalfa

    Pure Prairie Farm
    – Future prospects poised for more expansion n the herb and wheat flour business
    – Status in 1996 – two markets for vegetables
    – Status in 1999 – three to four reliable markets for vegetables, including contacts with CSA in Lawrence, KS
    o Markets for herb production: Burdock, St. John’s Wort, and Echinacea
    o Continued expansion of markets through the store, Pure Prairie Natural Foods, industry herb seed (Echinacea), whole wheat flour, melons, and vegetables

    Hatband Herbs
    – Status in 1996 – buyer of herbs and ½ acre of Echinacea production. Note: still a buyer of herbs on a large scale; participant in Echinacea potency study.
    – Status in 1999 – expanded Echinacea production from ½ acre to about 4 acres

    Nature’s Garden
    – Future prospects poised for growth in the value added business of making herbal extracts for the veterinary trade for horses; participants in Echinacea potency study.
    – Status in 1996 – ½ acres of Echinacea production
    – Status in 1999 – expanded Echinacea production to one acre
    o Beginning to make herbal extracts.

    Discussion:
    The results of the efforts of the six producers involved in this study were mixed and in many ways reflect the dim prospects for anyone to make a living in agriculture today. However, several notable successes were accounted for. We made a lot of contacts with people in the various industries of the ag economy, primary the herb industry which involved the efforts of three of the producers.

    We all learned what to some extent we knew already, that it takes years to start, establish and successfully build a business or a market, whether is the herb or honey or perennial flower business. The herb business is a particular challenge because it is so new and no clear channels of distribution or purchase exist to this point, especially not in this part of the country. Our attempts to learn about the herb trade and contact buyers was greatly enhanced by trips to Herb Fest in Norway, Iowa, which is a festival for herbalists, producers and practitioners, in the Midwest part of the United States. The potential for growth in the herb business is very real and entices al of us to keep trying, in spite of repeated failures and a lot of guesswork on the production end.

    We had very little success, if any; marketing cooperatively for the reasons stated in the introduction we are just too diverse a group, too far apart, and our production is not well enough established to warrant a regular cooperative effort. So, each producer basically follows his instincts to try to maximize his marketing efforts to the best of his ability.

    I have served not so much as a coordinator of activities, but rather as an overseer, trying to guide and give counsel and support where I thought use of the grant money was appropriate, and also where I thought the marketing efforts could bring the best return. To the extent that we are all still in business, though precariously, does mean that the grant has been an unqualified success. It should be noted, however, that several of the producers are quite small and do not depend on the money from agriculture production for their sole income, but that, too, is consistent with agriculture in general as we know it today.

    I do believe that we established a couple of basic tenets for marketing success. One, education of the consumer is of primary importance in marketing specialty or organic products. Whether it is honey, whole wheat flour, or organic beef, the consumer must constantly be educated on the benefits and advantages of buying our product. It is a never ending task. Second if anyone is to survive in agriculture today, producers of specialty products such as herbs, organic produce, organic beef, perennial flowers, etc. have a better chance then most because these producers can go direct to the consumer and offer them something extra. In this day when commercial products are all produced by mega farms of one type or another, it is critical for small producers to differentiate their product from the mainstream mass commodity. I believe we have successfully done that – what remains is to get production and marketing up to sustainable levels, sustainable in the economic sense of keeping our producers on the farm. In that regard we are partners with all producers across the land – we must continue to educate consumers that we are a viable and essential segment of society.

    OUTREACH
    The primary avenue for informing the public of the activities of the project were through the activities of the Prairie Hills Cluster, a foundation group already in place at the time the SARE grant was awarded. The cluster sponsors a seminar called “Health and Wealth of the Soil” on an annual basis, usually in February or March. These seminars provide an opportunity for producers and members of the general public to come together to discuss topics pertinent to organic and sustainable agriculture, marketing strategies, and other issues of importance to agriculture here in Northwest Kansas. In the past three years, Bryce Stephens, Jim Rowh, Gary Grose and Terry Pitts have all either spoken at the seminar or hosted a farm tour. This year’s farm tour included a round trip tour of three organic producers, Bryce Stephens, Jim Rowh and Dave Brandyberry. The seminar and tour was well attended with over 60 people in attendance. Average attendance over the last four years has been about 70 per year. The seminar is covered by newspapers and occasionally television media, as was the case this year due to the presence of Wes Jackson of the Land Institute, Salina, KS. The local Norton Daily Telegram has been very prompt about covering activities of the Cluster, plus any other articles written by me on the subject of organic farming or alternative markets. In addition, the Pure Prairie Natural Foods Store in Norton is a daily billboard for grant and cluster activities. Among the products featured in the store include Stephens Farm Beef, Grose Honey in 2#, 5# and gallon size containers, Pure Prairie Whole Wheat Flour, and herb plants from Windmill Farms in the spring.

    As for future activities, the “Health and Wealth of the Soil Year 6” will go on next spring, and that avenue for future discussion will be used. Pure Prairie store will also be an outlet for information regarding the herb taste, as I am in the formative stages of setting up the Kansas Herb Growers Cooperative.

    I have also spoken at seminars throughout the region including local and regional organic growers meetings, the Prairie Fest at the Land Institute in Salina, the Western Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture meeting in North Platte twice, as well as the Heartland Network Roundup in Manhattan (sponsored by KSU and the Kansas Rural Center). In all these meetings SARE producers activities are discussed and promoted.

    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.