Direct Marketing - Where to Begin

Tips and important considerations when it comes to direct marketing for your farm.
Direct Marketing - Where to Begin - Articles


Photo by Heather Manzo

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to marketing the products produced on your farm. At a recent New Grower Study Circle, Extension Educator Heather Manzo discussed the things farmers need to consider when selecting which direct marketing channels fits best with a farm’s resources and goals.

All successful farming operations require the delicate balance of production and distribution. Traditionally, many growers choose to direct market their products because it allows for the highest degree of control and flexibility with smaller acre production, and the potential profit margins compared to selling wholesale. The benefits realized by cutting out the middleman and getting direct feedback from the customer can make these marketing avenues well worth the labor required to sell directly.

Do Your Research

By marketing directly, the farmer takes their product all the way through from production to consumption, and there are a lot of factors to consider in order to make this happen. First, you want to get some information about your local markets, which means you’ll need to get out there and do some foot-on-the-ground research.

  • Determine where you want to market your product. On farm only, or will you be traveling to farmers markets and other locations? How far do you want to travel? What are the labor and post-harvest handling considerations to ensure product quality and safety?
  • Consider the type of consumer and the demand in your geographical area. Is there someone to buy your product? How much will they pay?
  • Familiarize yourself with the competition. What advantages do they have? Can you bring something to the table that they can’t?
  • Familiarize yourself with market prices (current and overall trends) for the product(s) you plan to sell.

Additional Considerations

Once you have a comprehensive picture of the sales climate where you want to sell, and have identified the consumers that you’ll be selling to, think about the best way to get your product ‘bookmarked’ in that customer’s mind, and into their hands. Determining the exact marketing channel(s) you’ll want to pursue requires asking yourself some additional questions.

  • Location: Proximity to your consumer should play a major role in this decision. Are they close enough that a Pick-Your-Own or on-farm CSA pickup is feasible? Are the farmers markets close enough to you that it’s worth the trip? Can you afford the time and cost to run a delivery truck?
  • General infrastructure: Do you have, or can you acquire the necessary transportation, supplies, labor and refrigeration?
  • Post harvest handling capabilities: If you plan to move your product anywhere and keep it looking fresh and palatable, do you have the necessary washing and cooling equipment? Will you be able to package properly? Do you want to prepare processed foods and deal with the related regulatory obligations?
  • Take the risks into account: When marketing directly, you’ll need to protect yourself against potential problems, and this includes having product liability insurance (now required by nearly all farmers markets), or general liability insurance if the public will be on your farm. Can you afford these risks and protection? More information can be found in the article Agricultural Business Insurance .

Direct Marketing Options

  • Roadside Market: Requires an investment in infrastructure, directional signage, marketing, and staffing. Location is also a major consideration with this option. This option allows the farmer to stay on or near the farm, minimizing transport to market.
  • Farmers’ Markets: Ensures your product is exposed to a higher volume of consumers who will generally pay the highest price per pound/piece, while also putting you in direct competition with other vendors. Farmers’ market sales make for notoriously long days, being off property or investing in staff, running trucks, and dealing with weather related uncertainty on market days. Selling at market requires a high level of customer interaction, which not all farmers are comfortable with. You’ll need to have proper transportation and storage, and will need to develop a pretty good idea of what you’ll sell on a given day.
  • Pick Your Own: This option can require less labor on the farmer’s end, but requires a lot more attention to public relations, crowd control to prevent theft and damage to crops, liability insurance, and staff on picking days. This marketing channel works well with particular crops, and is common with orchards and berries. A convenient location is helpful with this model. You’ll also need to be prepared for potential crop damage and the possibility of someone getting injured on the property.
  • Subscription Farming, or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs: In this model, your customer base signs up and pays for their share of the produce in advance of the growing season, usually in winter. This gives you capital when you need it early in the season, and guarantees an outlet for your product. It does require interaction with members and figuring out the logistics of on-farm pickup, and/or off-farm delivery, as well as dealing with back up plans to ensure a well-rounded box each week.

Your local Penn State Extension Office is a great resource for learning more about markets and marketing in your area.