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Focusing Farmers on Market Needs

Take the time to seek customer feedback. (Photo Credit: USDA.gov via Compfight)

Take the time to seek customer feedback. (Photo Credit: USDA.gov via Compfight)

It’s all right there on the table.

One look at what a farmer has on offer at the market, and there are usually two distinct categories: 1) what the farmer likes to grow, and 2) what has become relatively easy and straightforward to produce.

It is entirely reasonable to expect farmers to produce what they enjoy and are best at, but just because something is easy and enjoyable to grow, the question remains: should it be grown?

Producing what’s easy can become a habit, and that’s a pitfall. If a grower isn’t keeping a close eye on the demands of the market it becomes a trap. Every year, there are stories of overproduction and farms that have little or no market for their products, leading to reduced prices and lower profits.

This is known as ‘marketing myopia’: an often fatal condition resulting from a failure to recognize market changes and make needed adjustments.

The good news is that marketing myopia is curable. The simple solution is to get a fresh perspective on market opportunities and insight into customers’ wants and needs.

Farmers are often hesitant to seek feedback because they are afraid of what they might hear. But bad news can be a good thing, if one takes the time to listen and understand it. Customers are normally quite willing to help you serve them better in the future. Take the opportunity to better understand them and to make changes that are more closely aligned with what they want.

Customers are normally quite willing to help you serve them better in the future. (Photo Credit: USDA.gov via Compfight)

Customers are normally quite willing to help you serve them better in the future. (Photo Credit: USDA.gov via Compfight)

Direct communication

There has never been an easier or more economical time for farmers to speak directly with customers and get good market information. There is an abundance of inexpensive marketing tools at your disposal. These include a web presence, blog, e-mail newsletters, surveys, pay-per-click advertising, social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter, or simply the most direct method, setting up a table at the local market.

If you are not capturing and building an e-mail list of current and potential customers, you are missing a huge opportunity to educate, market to, and communicate with your best customers.

To help get better focused on your market’s needs, ask yourself and give as honest an answer as possible to the following questions:

  1. Why am I growing this crop or raising these animals? What is my specific market?
  2. Who is my best customer and why do they buy from me?
  3. What is the customer need or problem for which my products are the solution?
  4. How could I give my customers greater value versus lower price?
  5. How can I change my production systems to better align with my customer’s specific needs?
  6. Are there products that have historically been easy for my farm to produce and are these what I should continue to produce in the future?

Changing the focus of a farm’s production in order to focus on customer needs can be a large and sometimes intimidating step, but it is worth the risk and effort. In the end, farm produce better aligned with the needs, wants and desires of customers, helps to make decisions on what to produce – and how much to produce – relatively easy.

Market Demand is Your Friend

Being a top producer of a product is not much value without an associated market for your goods.

For producers large and small, the goal has to be matching production closely with market demand so there is minimal gap in supply. You can have the best product in the world, but if no one wants to buy it, chances are you’ve still got it.

Remember this: the customer has the final say. They choose to exercise how, and on what, they spend their hard-earned dollars. Therefore, the only opinion worth considering regarding what you produce is that of the person giving you the money.

An environmental horticulturalist and business management consultant, R. Gary Morton works with farm-based clients to develop value-added opportunities, products, strategies and experiences.

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