TONY MELTON:Farmers need to focus on marketing

January 6, 2019

All of us have our shortcomings and I tell folks who drive big, pretty pick-em-up trucks that the bigger and prettier the truck the more shortcomings. It seems that every year in this farming business I have the same resolutions: “better marketing, business principles, and production,” but it seems I get further behind each year.

One farmer reminds me regularly that the first thing I told him about growing produce is that it will take him 10 years to learn how and that it all changes constantly.

Therefore, it is great that the Fruit & Vegetable Track at this year’s SC AgriBiz & Farm Expo will focus on these three resolutions that I hope will help us all get on top of some of these changes. This year’s expo is on Jan. 23-24 at the Florence Center and the Fruit & Vegetable Track will begin just before lunch each day. So, these three weeks before the expo I will concentrate on these three areas beginning with marketing in this column.

Most people, especially farmers including myself, have trouble marketing. Marketing is way more in-depth than just selling. You can pretty much sell anything if the price is low enough, but marketing is planning to maintain a market where you can make the profit you need when you do sell. I have had many folks call me and tell me that they have a field of something like squash and wonder where they can sell it. This is a bad situation. I try to help as much as possible, but this is poor selling, let alone marketing.

They should have had at least one avenue to market it before planting – actually, I prefer having two or three avenues, what I call aces (buyers) up the sleeve. Produce is a very perishable, timely, competitive, and a dog-eat-dog business. On top of all this, it is also getting very regulated.

Therefore, at the expo we will be covering on-line marketing, accessing new markets, and getting into the wholesale produce market. One of my favorite sayings is “You can’t eat it all.” Now is the time to get ready to market this summer. I guarantee you that, barring another disaster like this fall with the hurricanes, this summer’s markets will not be as easy as the collard market this fall. If you were one of the lucky farmers who had collards this fall maybe it will help you get and maintain those markets this coming spring and summer. You will need all the advantages possible to keep the produce flowing. Back-ups generally end in the loss of produce at the farmer’s expense.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer. Email Melton at amelton@clemson.edu.

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