Oct 21, 2012

LOCAL FOOD NEWS: Strategic Marketing Workshop Focuses on Livestock

by Tracey Graham 

Forty-two people attended the September 21 “Strategic Marketing for Livestock Producers Workshop and Tour” focusing on direct and niche marketing “how-to’s” in Concordia, Ks. Speakers ranged from livestock producers who are successfully using direct or niche marketing to increase revenue and manage risk to Kansas Department of Agriculture and Kansas State University and other experts on business development, marketing and regulations.

Lisa Roberts of the Kansas Small Business Development Center at Wichita State University challenged participants to evaluate the costs and values associated with their farm enterprises, while discussing the multivariate factors that must be considered when setting pries for farm products.

Direct costs, indirect costs, opportunity costs, and values--tangible and intangible, quantifiable and emotional-- must all be part of the equation. Roberts who comes from a farm background, said, “Everything I know about business I learned on my family’s farm and I learned it from my grandfather!”

Panelist Norm Oeding of Janzen Farms (grass-fed beef and whole grains, Harvey County), Rosanna Bauman of Bauman’s Cedar Valley Farms and Anco USDA Poultry Processing Plant (Pasture-raised eggs, chicken, turkey, and ducks, and 100% grass-fed beef ; Anderson County), Noah Goddard of Goddard Farms (Goats, Grade A Dairy; Douglas County) and Laura Fortmeyer of Jubilee Farm (sheep and lamb products; Brown County) shared their experiences with pricing issues and the importance of record-keeping. Speakers answered questions related to marketing, pricing, processing, added value, shipping, diversification, cooperative marketing, “coopetition” and collaboration with other producers, and working with interns.

Julie Mettenburg, KRC Executive Director, covered the Basics of Marketing, Sales and Branding,
through a marketing mix of 7 key decision points: Place, Price, Pro-motion, People, Process, Physical Environment, and Product. Each of these areas overlap, and provide an avenue for niche marketers to tell their unique story, thereby increasing the value of the products offered.

Panelists Andi Dale of Dale Family Farms (grass-finished beef, pastured pork and poultry; Comanche County), Cherie Schenker of Schenker Family Farms (all-natural beef, lamb, pork and poultry; Crawford County), and Tonia Rupe of Lucky Star Farms, (grass-fed Angus beef; Greenwood County) shared their marketing and sales experiences and fielded a wide range of questions.

Transitioning from traditional commodity crops to niche marketing of specialized products (and becoming debt-free as a result), obtaining and maintaining Naturally Grown and Animal Welfare certifications, and determining the optimum mix of direct market retail and wholesale sales, were topics of interest.

“Pay attention to detail. Be so conscientious people think you’re anal,” advised Cherie Schenker. “Give stuff away” and “Be prepared to fail,” added Andi Dale. “Show you’re committed to the lifestyle and find ways to preserve this way of life,” offered Tonia Rupe.

Rosanna Bauman, known as the youngest HACCP writer in the state of Kansas, moderated the session on Processing, Rules and Regulations. KDA Dairy Inspection Program director George Blush, KDA Meat and Poultry Inspection Program director Julie Ehler, and Dr. Liz Boyle of Kansas State University Animal Sciences, shared challenges and opportunities livestock producers face in processing and selling their products.

They encouraged livestock producers to not be afraid to contact specialists at KSU and KDA for answers to specific questions concerning processing, labeling, liability insurance, inspection programs.

According to the panelists, it is widely recognized that the majority of food safety regulations were written with large producers in mind, and that many regulations do not apply well to smaller niche marketers. Most state regulators will work with producers to see to it that the intent of the regulations are addressed, and are not looking to overregulate small producers beyond their abilities. Efforts are being made at KDA and at USDA to streamline and clarify processing and handling regulations and procedures.

The workshop concluded with a tour of an example of a successful direct/niche marketing farm: the Lazy S Farm near Glasco where Larry and Madonna Sorrell raise heritage pigs (Red Wattle, Gloucester-shire Old Spot, and Mule Foot), turkeys (Standard Bronze), cattle (Scottish Highland), and sheep (Katahdin and Jacob). They also operate Rustic Remembrances Bed and Breakfast on the farm.

The majority of their livestock is purchased, processed, and marketed by Heritage Foods USA. Their meats are popular with world-famous chefs on the west and east coasts, including Mario Batali, Jason Denton and others.

Heritage Foods offers farm to fork traceability for their meats. This level of attention to heritage breeds and knowing specifically where each cut of meat comes from commands high dollar prices in top restaurants in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City and Las Vegas. The Sorrell farm has been featured in a number of magazines including Time and Sunflower Living, and newspaper articles, including the Salina Journal and Kansas City Star in recent years.

Workshop participants will receive a copy of KRC’s soon-to-be published Finding Your Niche: A Direct Marketing Guide for Kansas Farmers. The 150+ page guide, due out later this fall in both paper and online versions, will be full of information similiar to that offered at the workshop, guaranteed to help farmers and ranchers get successfully established in direct marketing.

The workshop was co-sponsored by the Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops and the Kansas Farmers Union, and funded in part by a grant from teh USDA Risk Management Agency.

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