Marketing on-farm compost for sustainability and economic viability
Farmers often compost for on-farm use, however selling the product off-farm presents challenges that comparatively few have successfully navigated. Demand for compost products is on the rise, presenting a viable value-added product for farmers. Resources about how to compost abound, however few resources exist to help farmers effectively market the product.
The Northeast Recycling Council, Inc. (NERC) and project Team Members are providing the tools to help farmers: 1) explore composting as a value-added product to support their current business operation; 2) understand the importance of quality control and compost recipe develop; 3) learn how to acquire the necessary permits to operate and market compost in their state; 4) explore potential feedstocks and pricing structures; 5) develop marketing and sales strategies to effectively meet local and regional demand; and 6) develop and implement a compost marketing plan.
NERC and Project Team members planned and implemented six compost marketing workshops in four states (two workshops in 2010; four workshops in 2011). A total of 234 participants from around the Northeast participated in the workshops. Beneficiary participants included 128 farm compost operators and 28 agricultural professionals, as well as municipal and private sector compost operators. NERC staff distributed more than 2,000 emails and mailings of workshop announcements directly to farm operators; farm associations; Agricultural Extension; State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities, requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcements. Team members posted announcements on their Websites and listserves. Numerous postings were made on agricultural-related Websites; several articles about the project and project resources were also developed and distributed.
The CD Resource Toolkit, containing project specific compost marketing materials, along with hundreds of other compost and compost marketing documents, was distributed to all workshop participants and to agricultural specialists (105 CDs in 2010; 225 CDs in 2011). Project resources and workshop presentations have been posted on NERC’s Compost Marketing Webpage, created for the project. In 2011, the “Making Your Compost Product Work for You” document was downloaded from the Webpage 917 times; the “Compost Marketing Plan Template” was downloaded 1,399 times; and the “Compost Marketing Resource List” was downloaded 1,558 times.
Seventeen on-farm consultations (eight in 2010; nine in 2011) have been made to provide technical assistance in developing a viable compost product, consideration of tipping fees, niche marketing opportunities, and the development of compost marketing plans to assist in increasing farm compost sales.
Milestone 1: Form a Project Team of 19 individuals from four different states to assist in development of the Toolkit, outreach, workshop/field day/workshops (ws/fd’s) development and implementation, delivery of technical assistance, and project verification.
• Project Team involvement was initiated in May 2009 and continued through 2011 with development and dissemination of the Toolkit; workshop formation, outreach, and implementation; and delivery of technical assistance in three of the participating states.
• The New Jersey Team Members did not participate in the project. The Agricultural Specialist failed to respond to multiple attempts at communication. The Peer Expert felt that New Jersey regulations were too strict and limited compost operation success, so stated that he was concerned about encouraging others to try to get into the business.
Milestone 2: 155 CD copies of Resource Toolkit distributed (80 to ws/fd’s participants, 40 to Agricultural Specialists, 35 SARE representatives), and posted on NERC Website.
• 330 Resource Toolkits have been distributed to workshop participants and agricultural specialists (for distribution to their constituents). In 2010, 105 Toolkits were distributed; in 2011, 225 Toolkits were distributed.
• Project specific resources and workshop presentations have been posted on the NERC Compost Marketing Webpage (www.nerc.org/compost_marketing/).
• In 2011, the “Making Your Compost Product Work for You” document was downloaded from the Webpage 917 times; the “Compost Marketing Plan Template” was downloaded 1,399 times; and the “Compost Marketing Resource List” was downloaded 1,558 times. In addition to the project resources, the posted workshop presentations also received thousands of hits.
Milestone 3: At least 500 on-farm composters will be contacted for participation in workshop/field days.
• In 2010, some 1,100 emails of the workshop announcements were sent directly to farm operators; farm associations; Agricultural Extension; State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement.
• In 2011, more than 1,200 emails of the workshop announcements were sent directly to farm operators; farm associations; Agricultural Extension; State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement.
• Agricultural Specialist Team Members from each state posted the workshop announcement and sent it out on their respective listserves or contact lists.
Milestone 4: 80 beneficiary farmers will gain knowledge and skills in compost marketing by participating in ws/fd’s and receiving the Toolkit. Beneficiaries will complete a questionnaire and be offered individual assistance to develop and implement a compost marketing plan.
• 234 participant beneficiaries from around the Northeast participated in six compost marketing workshops (two workshops in 2010; four workshops in 2011).
• 128 beneficiary farmers and 28 agricultural professionals participated in the workshops.
• All workshop participants were provided with a CD Resource Toolkit. Each participant is asked to complete a questionnaire. All farm-based beneficiaries were presented with the opportunity for technical assistance.
• In 2010, 36 questionnaires were completed by workshop attendees.
• In 2011, 52 questionnaires were completed by workshop attendees.
Milestone 5: 25 beneficiaries will ask for and be provided assistance in developing and implementing a compost marketing plan, including two on-farm consultations each. (Jan. 2010 – March 2012)
• In 2010, 18 beneficiaries expressed interest in being contacted for technical assistance.
• In 2011, 20 beneficiaries expressed interest in being contacted for technical assistance.
• All beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were contacted by NERC staff.
• 17 beneficiaries were provided assistance in developing and implementing a compost marketing plan (eight in 2010; nine in 2011), including an on-farm consultation and technical assistance in developing a viable compost product, consideration of tipping fees, and niche marketing opportunities to assist in increasing farm compost sales.
Milestone 6: Follow-up verification with (25) technical assistance beneficiaries and 10 case studies written documenting successfully implemented compost marketing plans. The case studies will be incorporated into an updated Toolkit. Revised toolkit will be mailed to SARE representatives and others upon request. (March 2012 – April 2013)
• Market plans are in progress and follow-up to technical assistance to beneficiaries is ongoing.
Performance Target: Of 80 farmers participating in the field day/workshops, 25 will develop compost marketing plans, 15 of which will implement the plans and sell value-added compost products within two years of implementing the marketing plan as measured by increased sales and tipping fees of roughly $36,000 to $56,000 annually for each participating beneficiary. Project Duration: 4 years.
Substantially more farmer and other beneficiaries have participated in the workshops and received the CD Resource Toolkit than anticipated in the original project proposal. Responses to the workshop questionnaire and additional comments received from beneficiaries have been overwhelmingly positive about the benefits of the knowledge and resources received to assist them in creating a viable compost product and marketing success.
In May 2009, communication commenced with Team Members, outlying the planned project and seeking input into tasks as well as suggestions for resources to include in the Resource Toolkit; Team Members reviewed and provided comments on the marketing documents compiled by NERC staff. One Peer Expert compiled a document for the Resource Toolkit that is also posted on the NERC Compost Marketing Webpage. In 2011, conference calls, and telephone or email conversations with Project Team members, primarily Agricultural Specialist members from each participating state, continued for development and implementation of workshops. Five Agricultural Specialists and one Peer Expert have been presenters at the workshops held to date. Peer Experts Ray and Erich McEnroe of McEnroe Organics hosted the first New York workshop (2010); two Beneficiary Team Members attended the workshop. Agricultural Specialists from Cornell Waste Management Institute (Jean Bonhotal and staff) were instrumental in organizing the second New York workshop, held at Cornell in January 2011; two Beneficiary Team Members attended the workshop.
Agricultural Specialist and Peer Expert Team Members from New York and Massachusetts have been particularly invaluable to the success of the project.
New York: Jean Bonhotal, Associate Director, Cornell Waste Management Institute; Dr. Robert Rynk, SUNY Cobleskill; Gary Feinland, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation; and Sally Rowland, Ph.D., P.E. NYS Department of Environmental Conservation continued to participate on the Project Team in 2011. The Project Team was instrumental in helping to determine the logistics, dates, agenda, and speakers for two New York workshops (2010 and 2011). The second New York workshop was held at Cornell (Ithaca) in 2011 with 37 participants.
Massachusetts: Sumner Martinson, Organics Director, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, has been the primary active Team member for the State. He was instrumental in helping to determine the logistics, date, agenda, and speakers for both workshops held in Massachusetts (2010 and 2011). Ongoing telephone and email dialogues with Mr. Martinson continued through 2011 for the planning of the second workshop held in March in Wrentham, Massachusetts; there were 42 participants. Gerard Kennedy, an Agricultural Specialist and Project Team member, posted the announcement for the workshop on the MA Department of Agricultural Resources weekly marketing report. Mr. Martinson and Team Peer Expert Geoffrey Kuter (Agresource) presented at both workshops. In early June, 2011 a conference call was held with representatives from Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Peer Expert) and Massachusetts Department of Agriculture regarding a planned Compost Operators Training, to include a compost marketing section (the third Massachusetts and final project workshop) to be held in August. However, insufficient registrations were obtained to off-set the costs of the training. The training is being discussed for 2012.
New Jersey: NERC staff worked with Joanna Dillon, Education and Outreach Coordinator, Northeast Organic Farming Association of NJ, to co-host the workshop held in New Jersey on January 31, 2011 in Hillsborough. Thirty-three people attended. Ms. Dillon was instrumental in helping to gain speakers for the event, the venue, registration, additional logistics, and conducting outreach. Additionally, Michael L. Westendorf, Ph.D., PAS, Extension Specialist in Animal Sciences, Rutgers University provided assistance in formulation of the agenda and ideas for potential speakers. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection staff also actively participated in formation of the Workshop, along with Erich Bremer, Supervisor of the Organic Certification Program for New Jersey Department of Agriculture. The original Team Members for New Jersey, on Peer Expert and one Agricultural Specialist, elected not to participate in the project.
New Hampshire: NERC staff consulted with Team Agricultural Specialist member, Richard Uncles, from the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture about logistics for the workshop to be held in his state, as well as potential workshop co-sponsors. NERC Staff worked with a representative from NOFA New Hampshire to host the compost marketing workshop for that state held in March 2011 in Concord. Twenty-one participants were in attendance. [Note: Unfortunately Mr. Uncles retired shortly after the start of the New Year, 2011; no replacement has been hired. The Peer Expert did not participate in the project; no response was received from several communications to him.]
Resource Materials and Toolkit
Extensive research was conducted on composting and marketing in order to compile the three documents on compost marketing developed by NERC staff. These documents, along with one developed by a Team Peer Expert were finalized for inclusion in the CD Resource Toolkit in 2010 and posted on NERC’s Compost Marketing Webpage (www.nerc.org/compost_marketing/). A comprehensive Internet search and in various technical journals, as well as consultation with project Team Members, was also conducted for articles and technical writings on compost marketing, general marketing techniques, and general compost operations for inclusion on the Resource Toolkit provided to workshop participants and agricultural specialists.
Additional documents continue to be added to the Toolkit on an ongoing basis. In addition to distribution to workshop participants, beneficiaries unable to attend the workshop have been emailed or mailed documents. NERC’s Compost Marketing Webpage link has also been sent to numerous inquirers, and posted in all announcements about the project, including workshop invitations.
A total of 330 CD Resource Toolkits were distributed to workshop beneficiaries and agricultural specialists (for distribution to additional farm beneficiaries); 105 were distributed in 2010 and 225 in 2011. Agricultural specialists have also reported using the Toolkit to make additional copies for their constituents.
The Project Resources posted to the NERC Compost Marketing Website have proven to be very popular. In 2011, the “Making Your Compost Product Work for You” document was downloaded from the Webpage 917 times; the “Compost Marketing Plan Template” was downloaded 1,399 times; and the “Compost Marketing Resource List” was downloaded 1,558 times. In addition to the project resources, the posted workshop presentations also received thousands of hits.
Additionally, NERC received funding from the Stokes Foundation to compile and distribute 300 CD Resource Toolkits containing hundreds of manure management, composting, and compost marketing resources. Several of these resources included documents developed for the SARE Compost Marketing project. These CDs are being distributed primarily in Massachusetts, but others parts of New England as well, to farmers and farm assistance organizations.
March 2010 – 60 CDs distributed to New York Workshop participants and agricultural specialists on Team and attending the workshop.
April 2010 – 45 CDs distributed to Massachusetts Workshop participants and agricultural specialists on Team and attending the workshop.
June 2010 – NERC produced documents, Farm Peer Expert document, and Workshop presentations posted on New NERC “Compost Marketing” Webpage. Update to NERC’s Northeast Compost and Fertilizer Regulations completed and posted on NERC Website
January 2011 – 40 CDs distributed to New York Workshop participants.
January 2011 – 45 CDs distributed to NJ Workshop participants, NOFA New Jersey staff, and agricultural specialists attending the workshop.
February 2011 – Patrick Natale, Agricultural Outreach Specialist, North Jersey RC&D made 50 additional copies of the CD for distribution to farmers in his District
March 2011 – 20 CDs distributed at NOFA New Hampshire Winter Conference.
March 2011 – 25 CDs distributed to New Hampshire Workshop participants.
March 2011 – 45 CDs distributed to Massachusetts Workshop participants and agricultural specialists on Team and attending the workshop.
Document downloads from NERC Compost Marketing Website in 2011:
“Making Your Compost Product Work for You”— 917 downloads
“Compost Marketing Plan Template”—1,399 downloads
“Compost Marketing Resource List”—1,558 downloads.
Workshop Outreach/Farmer Contact
Contact lists of farmers were compiled for New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New Hampshire, prior to the workshops in each state. It was difficult to find specific listings of farm compost operations, although when found these operators were added to the contact lists. Horse and livestock operations, as well as general farm operations, from each participating state were included as well. State agricultural agencies and agricultural support organizations from around the Northeast were also incorporated in the contact lists.
In 2010, some 600 email announcements, plus 30 mail announcements were sent out for the first New York and Massachusetts workshops. In addition, all Team Members from each state posted the workshop announcement and sent it out on their respective listserves or contact lists.
In November 2010, more than 300 emails of workshop flier sent directly to farm operators; farm associations; Agricultural Extension; all NY State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement for the New York Compost Marketing Workshop held on January 12, 2011 at Cornell University. Additionally, the NY Agricultural Specialists on the Project Team also sent out announcements to their contact lists.
In November and December 2010, more than 225 emails of workshop flier were sent directly to farm operators; farm associations; Rutgers Agricultural Specialists/Extension; New Jersey State Soil and Water Conservation District Offices; and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of announcement for New Jersey Compost Marketing Workshop held January 28, 2011. Additionally, since the workshop was conducted in conjunction with the NOFA NJ Winter conference, the workshop was heavily promoted on the NOFA NJ Website, email lists, and other outreach.
In January and February 2011, some 500 emails of the workshop flier were sent directly to farm operators, farm associations, Agricultural Extension, MA Conservation District Offices, and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement for Massachusetts Compost Marketing Workshop held in March 2011. A bulletin was also posted on the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Farm/Market Report by a project Peer Expert. As the workshop was conducted in conjunction with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Recycling Association’s Annual Organics Summit, the workshop was heavily promoted by both MASSDEP and MassRecycle on their Websites, emails, press releases, and additional outreach.
In February 2011, 350 emails of the workshop flier were sent directly to farm operators, farm associations, Agricultural Extension, New Hampshire Conservation District Offices, and other agricultural entities requesting attendance, posting, and distribution of the announcement for New Hampshire Compost Marketing Workshop held in March 2011. Additional announcements were sent out through NOFA New Hampshire.
In July/August 2011, some 400 email announcements were sent out for the Compost Operators Training, to include a compost marketing section, scheduled for late August. [Note: the training was cancelled because the registration quota was not reached; it is being discussed to potentially reschedule for 2012.]
Several NERC Email Bulletins were published (distribution 680 individuals around the country):
March 2010 – “Make Your Compost Product Work for You! FREE Compost Marketing Workshop/Field Days”
June 2010 – “Making Your Compost Product Work for You!”
June 2010 – “Compost Marketing Web Page Posted”
July 2010 – “Organics & Fertilizer Resource Document Updated”
December 2010 – “FREE Compost Marketing Workshop/Field Day”
January 2011—“NERC’s First Compost Marketing Workshop in New Jersey”
March 2011–Ebulletin and NERC Home page: “Free Compost Marketing Workshops Offered in New Hampshire & Massachusetts”
Maarch 2011-“Two Previous NERC Workshops on Compost Marketing Training Well Attended”
May 2011—“Compost Marketing Workshops a Success with Participants”
Additional articles and announcements
• December 30, 2010 (for January 2011 workshop)—Article in the Allentown Examiner (New Jersey), “Organic and sustainable agriculture event in Princeton,” included information about the Compost Marketing Workshop.
• March 24, 2011—Massachusetts Farm and Market Report, Extras – Workshop announcement
• February 2011 – New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling NYSAR3 Quarterly Newsletter article (The Network) –
• “New York Workshop Provides Compost Marketing Training”
• May 2011—NERC Facebook page posting and Technical Assistance Farm Visit photos added
• Friday, 30 September 2011, Progressive Dairyman—“Make your compost product work for you.”
• Numerous blogs, county extension and government pages, and calendar listings for all workshops were posted on the SARE Website, NOFA, and other agricultural Websites.
NERC Compost Marketing Website postings/links:
• Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection— http://www.mass.gov/dep/recycle/reduce/composti.htm
• Cornell Waste Management Institute—http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/links.htm
• Florida FORCE (Center for Organics)—
• New York State’s Empire State Develop Organics Recycling Portal–http://www.esd.ny.gov/businessprograms/OrganicsRecyclingPortal.html
Four Workshops/Field Days Held
NERC and Team Members have planned and implemented six compost marketing workshops in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York, with 234 participants from around the Northeast. Beneficiary participants included 128 farm compost operators and 28 agricultural professionals, as well as municipal and private sector compost operators.
Four Compost Marketing Workshops were held in 2012. The all-day workshops featured Peer Expert speakers and compost experts. Presentations were done in PowerPoint and posted to the NERC Compost Marketing Webpage (http://www.nerc.org/compost_marketing/index.html). A “field day” tour of a compost site is included at the end of the workshops, with presentations by compost operators. All participants receive hard copies of the NERC compost marketing documents, a CD Resource Toolkit, workshop agenda, and a questionnaire to complete. (See attached questionnaire responses received by participants in New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts workshops.)
A wide range of compost marketing principles are presented at each workshop, along with state specific information on regulations (focusing on farm compost operations). Topics included: the importance of compost quality; compost as a commodity; market sectors; product positioning; volume vs. value markets; distribution and delivery options; making money from tipping fees; establishing a fair market return; finding a niche; meeting customer needs; branding; social marketing; customer education tips; and sales principles and strategies.
Networking opportunities, interaction with presenters, Q&A, and a roundtable with all participants have proven to be very popular features of each of the workshops. Participants are asked to complete a questionnaire at the end of each workshop. The questionnaire inquires about current operation and marketing, marketing needs, and how the workshop may have helped them. Reviews of the workshops have been overwhelmingly favorable and successful in meeting the marketing skills and training goals of participants in the workshops.
The first workshop for 2011 was held on January 12 in Ithaca, New York at Cornell Waste Management Institute. Despite an unexpectedly powerful snow storm, 37 people from around the state of New York, Vermont, and Pennsylvania braved the weather to attend. Participants included: seventeen farmers; five agricultural professionals (Cornell Waste Management Institute, Schenectady County Soil & Water, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture); seven government representatives (including, Cayuga County Solid Waste District, Monroe County, Oneida Herkimer Solid Waste Facility) and five private compost operators (including, Cayuga Compost, Intervale Compost Products, Nordmack Corporation, AgRecycle). Three farm Beneficiary Team Members – Ken Van Alstine, and Paul and Maureen Knapp were present. Presenters included Agricultural Specialist Team Members Jean Bonhotal, Associate Director, Cornell Waste Management Institute and Dr. Robert Rynk, SUNY Cobleskill, Agricultural Engineering Department; Mark Wittig, Cayuga Compost also presented. Sponsors for the workshop included NERC; Cornell Waste Management Institute; SUNY Cobleskill; and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The event included a tour of the Cornell Compost Facility. [Note: Unfortunately an unexpected strong snow storm hit the region. It was decided not to cancel in advance, as weather reports were not anticipating significant snow fall, and it was unsure what the next week (the planned “snow day”) would bring. 45 people had originally registered for the event, plus 27 people on the waiting list. Many people could not make the trip; this included 2 speakers and the Team Member Agricultural Specialist from NY Department of Environmental Conservation. Additionally, the workshop started late to allow for people to make it in under the poor driving conditions. Also, people were anxious to leave as the snow was still coming down, so the event was shortened to allow for those who wanted to go on the Cornell compost site visit to get started. Only ten people responded to the workshop questionnaire.)
The second workshop for 2011 was held on January 28 at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. Presenters included Dr. Michael L. Westendorf, Rutgers University, Department of Animal Sciences; Loren S. Muldowney, Staff Scientist Rutgers/NJAES Soil Testing Lab; Erich V. Bremer, Supervisor, Organic Certification Program, New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Division of Marketing and Development; and Athena Lee Bradley, NERC staff. Sponsors for the workshop were NERC; the Northeast Organic Farming Association of NJ; and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Thirty-three people participated in the workshop. Fifteen participant beneficiaries were farmers and three were agricultural professionals (State of New Jersey Department of Agriculture and Rutgers University). Additionally, several participants represented nonprofit organizations, community gardens, and the Western Queens Compost Initiative. A tour of the Duke Farms/JH Reid Compost site was conducted following the workshop.
The third workshop was held in Concord, New Hampshire on March 26. The workshop was co-sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association New Hampshire (NOFA NH). Twenty-three people participated, including 17 farmers and one agricultural professional (president of NOFA-NH). Additional participants included a representative from the State of Maine Planning Office and a representative from the Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission (NH). Presenters included: Athena Lee Bradley, NERC staff; Bob Kelly, Seacoast Farms Compost Products, Inc.; and, Peter Schmidt, Compostwerks, LLC. The workshop was followed by a tour of Lewis Farm Composting and a talk given by Harry Lewis about his operation and marketing.
The fourth workshop for 2011 was conducted in Massachusetts on Monday, March 28 at the Wrentham Developmental Center in Wrentham, MA. The workshop was held in conjunction with the annual Massachusetts Organic Summit. Sponsors for the workshop were NERC and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. Forty-two people participated; twenty-seven participants were farmers and two were agricultural professionals (Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection). Additional participants included: Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation; Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection; US Environmental Protection Agency (New England); U.S. Pure Energy, Inc.; Bridgewater (MA) Correctional Complex; Lexington (MA) Department of Public Works; Framingham (MA) Department of Public Works; Sustainable Arlington; and Town of Hingham, Department of Public Works. Presenters included: Athena Lee Bradley, NERC staff; Geoffrey Kuter, Agresource, Inc.; Gary Mottau, Groundscapes Express, Inc. (Wrentham Farm). The workshop included a tour of Groundscapes Express and an overview of the operation presented by Butch Goodwin, Operations Manager.
Additionally, the “Compost Marketing: Strategies for Success” presentation developed by NERC staff for the project was presented at the annual NOFA-NH conference in March in Exeter, New Hampshire and at the New England Small Farm Institute in December for a Stokes Foundation funded project. An additional 25 farmers attended these two workshops.
One final workshop had been planned for August in Massachusetts, in conjunction with a Massachusetts Compost Operators Training. However, there were insufficient registrants to make the Training viable. NERC is working with Massachusetts Team Members to either hold the final workshop at an upcoming Compost Operators Training or the Organics Summit in 2012.
Due to the popularity of the workshops, NERC staff time required for handling logistics and workshop preparation, responding to questions from registrants, conducting outreach to registrants, and follow-up was more than anticipated in the original proposal. Team Members and NERC staff did not want to limit the size of the workshops because of the tremendous educational and training opportunity involved.
Farmer Technical Assistance in Compost Marketing Plan Development
Nine on-farm technical assistance consultations were completed in 2011, for a total of seventeen farm beneficiary visits to date. These site visits involve a discussion with the farm compost operators, a tour of their compost operation, a review of their current operation, compost products, and marketing goals to include in the compost market plan development. NERC staff provides on-site technical assistance and suggestions for operational improvements, marketing, and product sales. Compost market plans are in progress; ongoing contact has continued with beneficiaries and resources and technical assistance provided upon request. Two additional farm visits are planned for early 2012 in Massachusetts.
On-Farm Visits 2010
March 30, 2010 – Laurel Brook Farm in East Canaan, Connecticut
June 9, 2010 – Hilltop Hanover Farm in Yorktown Heights, New York
June 9, 2010 – Collins Compost in Enfield, Connecticut
August 17, 2010 –Tripp’s Dairy Farm in Westport, Massachusetts
August 17, 2010 –Newland Farm in Norton, Massachusetts
August 17, 2010 –Aquidneck Farm in Portsmouth, Rhode Island
September 16, 2010 – Holiday Farm in Dalton, Massachusetts
September 16, 2010 – Gray Craig Farm in Belchertown, Massachusetts
On-Farm Visits 2011
January 13 – Cobblestone Valley Farm (Beneficiaries) in Preble, NY
January 13 — Devine Gardens in Nelson, New York
January 14 – Fern Hill Farm Compost in Red Creek, New York
January 14 – Higher Ground Farm in Hoosick Falls, New York
February 23 – Coker Farm in Bedford, New York
May 6 – White Clover Farm in Fairfax, Vermont.
June 21 – Always Something Farm in Croydon, New Hampshire
September 15 – Shadow Valley Farm in Somens, Connecticut
September 26 – Fiddlehead Farm in Rhinebeck, New York
It should be noted that all 38 workshop beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were contacted by NERC staff. However, not all beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were farmers, so these individuals were ultimately eliminated from receiving assistance. Additionally, others who expressed interest did not actually have a marketable product yet, so many of these individuals were provided guidance and additional information, but were not included in the on-farm consultations. The need to provide more general composting information to many of the beneficiaries has slowed progress in completing the marketing plans and required more NERC staff time and expertise in compiling the plans than anticipated in the original proposal. Additionally, the extra time spent by NERC staff on the workshops, as noted above, has also impacted the progress on completion of the marketing plans.
- New Jersey Workshop Agenda
- New York Workshop 2 Announcement
- New Hampshire Workshop Announcement
- New Hampshire Workshop Agenda
- Massachusetts Workshop 2
- Massachusetts Workshop 2 Compost Operation Tour at Groundscapes
- NERC Email Bulletin Articles 2011
- Article in New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse, and Recycling (NYSAR3) Quarterly Newsletter
- New Hampshire Workshop Questionnaire Responses
- Consultaton Visit – Coker Farm
- New Jersey Workshop Tour Duke Farm Compost Site
- Progressive Dairyman article
- Massachusetts Workshop 2 Questionnaire Responses
- New Jersey Workshop Announcement
- New Jersery Workshop
- Massachusetts Workshop 2 Agenda
- New Jersey Workshop Questionnaire Responses
- Consultaton Visit — White Clover Farm
- Massachusetts Workshop 2 Announcement
- New York Workshop 2 Agenda
- New York Workshop 2 Questionnaire Responses
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Response to the outreach conducted for the workshops held in all states was successful. Email outreach and Web postings proved effective at reaching farmer beneficiaries, as well as leading to multiple postings by agricultural specialists and farm advocacy groups interested in promoting farmer opportunities to their email listservs, Websites, and blogs. This proved especially effective in New York and Massachusetts where farm organizations are particularly active. Additionally, Team Members and agricultural specialists in New York and Massachusetts are more active in promoting composting as a viable component of whole-farm systems. Their outreach proved to be more targeted to compost operators. In New Jersey and New Hampshire, agricultural specialists contacted were not supportive of working on the compost workshops in their states and Project Team Members for these two states were not active. The NOFA organizations for both states were supportive, especially NOFA New Jersey and both proved to be viable options for assisting in development, organization and outreach of the workshops.
The participation in the workshops has been much higher than originally anticipated. Although the workshops are geared toward farmers and agricultural specialists, project Team Members did not want to limit participation to the workshops. Additional participants included private and municipal compost facility operators. The wide variety of participants in the workshops resulted in increased knowledge and a wealth of information shared with all participants during the networking and roundtable opportunities. The knowledge exchanged during the networking and roundtables particularly benefited the farmer beneficiaries, since many of these participants were new to compost operation and marketing. Participants have come from multiple states to attend the workshops (New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Vermont). In addition to the workshop participants, inquiries about the project and resources have come from around the country and Canada. Given that little directed outreach was conducted outside of the four participating states for the workshops, plus the large number of participants in the workshops, the need for compost marketing information is clearly apparent.
Workshop attendees were very positive in their review of the Workshops and Toolkit Resources. All presenters were highly qualified and made outstanding presentations. Participants were engaged and especially noted the benefits of the Roundtable discussion part of the Workshops.
On the workshop participant questionnaire, participants were asked: “What marketing skills did you hope to gain from participating in today’s workshop? Did the workshop help you obtain those skills?” Participant responses were overall positive. Critical comments made in the early workshops were considered during the planning for additional workshops in order to better meet beneficiary needs.
A sampling of responses follows:
“Meeting other composters, finding and assessing available resources. Yes, it was helpful.”
“Details on developing business from the ground up. The workshop was a little too general.”
“Learn whatever I can about marketing in the composting business. The workshop was extremely informative and helpful.”
“Want to learn more about marketing opportunities and barriers to composters. Yes, the workshop was helpful.”
“Understanding market pricing and packaging (bulk vs. bagged). Yes. There was a good mix of ideas for both large and smaller producers.”
“Ideas for how to marketing during the upcoming transition. Specific marketing strategies and best practices. Stories from other people’s marketing experiences marketing their products. I found the first half of the workshop to be not quite what I was looking for – not enough on marketing. The second half was great and very informative.”
“Awareness about the industry and greater understanding about marketing and value. Yes – good overview of both composting and marketing of finished product.”
“Ideas and contacts to move product – yes.”
“Basic marketing skills – yes.”
“Motivation to think about marketing my compost – yes.”
“Learn something about the issues involved so I can decide if/how to proceed in developing additional product lines for the farm. Absolutely the workshop was helpful.”
“Understanding certain terms, clarifying information I have learned along the way-fact or fiction. Yes! This has been a great relief to learn the facts.”
“Labeling, information for consumer, market info. Yes, workshop was very helpful in this regard.”
“Ideas on sales and helping to make them cost effective. Yes, it was very informative and provided Websites that will be very useful.”
“Outreach; tie-in with our business plan opportunities. Thought it was very good.”
“What are the varieties of raw materials? How do they apply to different markets? How to keep it small-scale and manageable at first? Very much so—excellent balance of macro and micro levels of examining the compost venture.”
“Best appropriate marketing, how to sell, how to price, how to advertise. Yes, I liked the contrast between Bob (marketing from a people perspective) and Peter (marketing from a scientific perspective).”
“Basic costs and numbers pertaining to the industry. Marketing systems. Yes, so interesting – what a great value.”
“Branding, promotion, customer education, plus creating a niche. Yes, very good. Learned a lot about marketing, advertising, creating a marketing plan. Thanks!”
In speaking with agricultural specialists who attended the workshops, many expressed interest in using the knowledge from the workshops and the CD Resource Toolkit to further compost marketing knowledge in their area. The CD Resource Toolkit has proven to be a low-cost and highly effective tool for transmitting numerous resources, allowing for multiple copying and distribution of the resources. Agricultural specialists, in particular, have spoken highly of this tool as they can make multiple copies at low cost for their constituents. Additionally, NERC’s Compost Marketing Webpage, created for the project, has been effective in providing the project resources to thousands of other beneficiaries at no cost.
One unexpected outcome of the project is that the majority of workshop participants have not been marketing their compost prior to attending and many have just started their compost operations. Consequently, the workshop beneficiaries expressing interest in technical assistance were not as far along in their compost operation as had been anticipated in the original proposal. NERC staff provided many beneficiaries with advice on their compost operation, however, since they were not ready to market materials, most were not included in the technical assistance component of the project. This has limited the number of on-site consultations conducted to under the goal of 25.
Nine of the beneficiaries receiving technical assistance have a viable compost product and have been marketing their products. Technical assistance for these operations has concentrated on developing a marketing plan, refining their product presentation, suggesting additional marketing strategies, and expanding their product sales to a wider customer base. These remaining beneficiaries are in various stages of compost product development, from little product available for sale, but wanting to get more into the business, to having product and just getting it ready for sale. These consultations have concentrated on offering technical assistance in developing a more marketable product, strategizing on potential feedstocks and revenues from tipping fees, and helping beneficiaries to look at ways to enter the market.
Regardless of the beneficiary status in terms of their compost operation, however, the on-farm consultations have proven to be an effective means of viewing the compost operation to gather information for the marketing plans and discuss the goals and plans with each farm operator. Additionally, these visits have served to spark immediate discussion on ideas for improving the operations and marketing techniques.
Specific examples of NERC and team member assistance for beneficiaries in 2011:
• NERC staff has conducted research into a specific marketing niche and regulatory insight for a farm-based mortality compost business. The operators have not marketed the compost but have developed a viable business and produced a quality compost product. Additional business exposure outreach, including a field day and social media usage, were also presented.
• Insight into label and packaging designs for two beneficiaries.
• Suggestions for volume-based compost sales in order to move product more quickly.
• Retail options and tipping fee suggestions, as well as potential feedstock options.
• Product presence and presentation at local farmers markets and garden centers.
1 Winter St.
Office Phone: 6172925969
SUNY Cobleskill, Agricultural Engineering Dept.
115 Curtis-Mott Hall
Cobleskill, NY 12043
Office Phone: 5182555691
Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources
Suite 500, 251 Causeway Street
Boston, MA 02114
Office Phone: 6176261773
Kreher’s Poultry Farms/Kreher’s Compost
5411 Davison Rd.
Clarence, NY 14031
Office Phone: 7167596802
120 Chester Road Derry
Derry, NH 03038
Office Phone: 6034325263
Watts Family Farm
23 Falmouth Sandwich
Sandwich, MA 02571
Office Phone: 5084773302
Mass Natural Fertilizer Co., Inc.
65 Bean Porridge Hill Rd.
Westminster, MA 01473
Office Phone: 9788740744