Before any enterprise is started, Marketing should be the first thing on a person’s mind. It is the most important aspect of any farm business and the only action that results in revenue.

Over the years, we have seen changes in all aspects of agricultural production, but a lot of producers have not kept pace with the changing conditions when it comes to marketing. Here in the Southeast, tobacco was a major cash income crop and auction markets were scattered all over the area up into the 1990’s. Now, they are a thing of the past since tobacco is now contracted with the large tobacco companies. The same thing can be said for hogs except the old sows that are sold at the local auction markets and are made into sausage. When I was in college in the 1960’s, professors were saying the swine industry would never become integrated as the poultry industry, but now we know different.

We are now seeing alliances formed within the cattle industry and major changes will be forthcoming. Most cattle producers still have the opportunity to take their cattle to market on a given weekday, but, is that really marketing or just selling? There is a difference. In marketing, you make plans to get the highest price on a given day; in selling you simply take what is offered. Marketing may require you to group your livestock with other livestock from other producers in order to assemble the right size package for a buyer such as truckload lots of cattle. Research has shown that cattle sold in truckload lots will bring from 3 to 10 cents more per pound than cattle sold one by one.

Large corn and small grain producers have the grain elevators and the opportunity of forward contracting if so desired, but what about the small producer who is not large enough to get into the futures? Also, there is the small sheep and goat producers who may not have a ready market in their area. When the Ostrich and Emu excitement ran out and all the breeding stock were sold that could be sold, what happened to the market? Some animals were turned out to fend for themselves and be taken in by humane societies.  Sheep and goat producers need to be working together to develop markets that will be processing meat for the consumer. Prices have been good for breeders who have the popular bloodlines and the foundation stock in demand. When the market becomes saturated with bucks, does, rams and ewes, you are going to need a market that will eventually process for the consumer. This may involve special sale days at a local market where producers would travel many miles with their stock. Associations could work together with market managers to arrange special sales for the smaller commodities.

Marketing also involves every producer promoting their products. I recall the “Beef Referendum” many years ago when cattle producers would be voting to give $1.00 per head to promote beef. I was conducting an extension meeting for farmers and overheard a farmer ask his neighbor if he was going to support the beef checkoff. He replied, “hell no, let the supermarkets promote beef”.  If someone is not interested in promoting their own product, they are not going to help their industry. There are many ways to promote your farm products and several can be done rather inexpensively.  Some of these may be:                                       

*Attractive farm signs promoting your farm and what you produce. Rusted out signs with weeds grown up over the sign are not going to attract potential buyers.

 *Website, you do not need to spend thousands of dollars for a website. An attractive website promoting your farm and products can be less than $200 per year. Or if you want to develop your own, it could be free or almost free. There are some companies that offer free hosting but you have to wade through the "pop up" ads. Some internet service providers such as Comcast offers server space for personal websites included with your subscription fee. A free website can be developed with your ISP and then purchase a domain to point to the free hosted site.

 *Classified ads in popular breed magazines. Don’t purchase the full page or page ad, but purchase a small classified pointing to your website that has all the information about the products as well as your contact information.  A full page ad in a magazine could cost several hundred dollars but a $25.00 classified ad pointing to your website will provide much more information.

 *If your association has a free classified page for members in their newsletter or website, take advantage of that and place a small classified pointing to your website.

 *Inexpensive business cards with three important items, name, phone number and website address.

 *Farm name on your truck along with phone number and web address.

 *Develop an email database of interested customers. This can be expanded into a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter.

 *Become actively involved in a breed association promoting your livestock or products.

 *Look for something unusual about what you do, and publicize it, such as farm and educational tours.

Marketing will continue to change over the years and the agricultural producer will need to stay in tune with marketing trends to stay in the black.