Pages

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Marketing Agroforestry Products

An assumption exists “that the value of the production systems will be enough to convince people to adopt agroforestry” (Garrett, 2021). That’s rather naive, to put it lightly. Just having good systems will not encourage adoption. On the one hand farmers need to be shown the benefits, and on the other markets need to exist. When a market for a type of product is created it exerts a ‘pull’ on producers to adopt the practices and products involved. Without market opportunities, farmers are not going to want to adopt sustainable agriculture and agroforestry practices. “The ultimate purpose of marketing is to understand customer’s needs, desires, and motivations” (Garrett, 2021). Thus, marketing is essential for the future success of agroforestry.

Some market trends favor the adoption of agroforestry practices. There’s a move towards renewables due to concerns about dependence on foreign oil, a growing interest in organic and locally grown foods, environmental issues to be addressed, and the potential for direct marketing offered through the internet and social media (Garrett, 2021). Demand for biofuel has created a commodities boom for corn and soybeans, and it’s not farfetched to see the same potential for using cellulosic feedstock (from perennial grasses and trees) for the same purpose.

Consumers are increasingly concerned about the pollution and environmental harm done through industrial agriculture practices, and worries over food quality have also contributed to new interest in sustainable agriculture practices. With food quality in particular there is a direct link to consumers favoring locally grown products. A belief exists that local products will be of better quality and possibly safer. Remarkably, farmer’s markets have proliferated nationwide by 396% since 1994, demonstrating something of the scope of interest among consumers in locally-grown products.

One of the defining differences between traditional agriculture and agroforestry is the concept of ‘productive conservation.’ Whereas farm conservation has historically involved the setting aside of land for wildlife and left unproductive, productive conservation entails taking care of the land in ways that benefit flora, fauna, and soil health while also producing saleable goods. These can include edibles like berries or mushrooms, herbal medicines, wood products, fiber, mulch, and even recreation in the form of fishing and hunting (Garrett, 2021). “Agroforestry enterprises often produce niche products for markets about which little is known” (Garrett, 2021). That being the case, effort must be made to engage in market analysis in order to identify what products consumers want, and define that target consumer demographic.

There are some barriers to entry for smaller operations. These can include economies of scale, capital requirements, access to distribution channels, product differentiation, and industry competition. When the possibility of selling carrots grown in the state of New York was first being explored it seemed like a natural fit. As it turned out, existing legislation and administrative rules favored four big distributors, as they were able to offer items of the right quality for the best price. They had scale figured out, and were able to deliver carrots from California for less that those found in-state. There were also issues with the New York carrots not being of the same quality as out-of-state carrots. That conundrum was solved through trial-and-error with the product and some creative writing around product requirements (Severson, 2007).

At the same time, consumers aren’t just interested in quality and price, but also the company behind it and the story. Thus it can be best for new agroforestry operations to start small and really create a compelling narrative. This is because “...niche product markets are based more on trust and authenticity” (Garrett, 2021). An example of this comes from Shepherd Farms, a producer of pecans that utilizes alley cropping.

Shepherd Farms operates a seasonal store where customers can view the farm and its processing facility. These experiences connect customers to the farm. Shepherd believes that giving his customers a positive, memorable experience does more than encourage repeat visits - it strengthens the reputation of the farm and its brand. (Lim, 2021)

Through the store, Shepherd Farms is creating an experience and connection with consumers that can develop into brand loyalty

A good marketing strategy depends on addressing the competitive marketplace and development/delivery of products to consumers. This can happen through cost leadership strategies, differentiation strategies, and/or a focus strategy. On the product strategy side, the “most common marketing strategy for farmers producing agroforestry products is product differentiation to appeal to a focused group of consumers” (Garrett, 2021). In the case of Oregon farmers and ranchers this has meant a bridge of sorts across a political divide. While the producers are often conservative Republicans, their consumers tend to be liberal Democrats (Dundas 6).

Crunch Pak found its own niche market by serving a commonplace fruit in a unique way. Noting research that indicates people eat more apples if offered by the slice, they found a way to keep apple slices from browning without making them soggy and began packaging and selling them. Taking something that already exists and putting a new spin on it, providing it in a friendlier way, can create new opportunities in established markets (Wolfe, 2009).

Pricing also needs to be a consideration, as it is more complex for agroforestry operations than for producers selling in the commodities market. In the latter, producers accept the going rate for their product. There’s really no negotiation. In agroforestry and other permaculture practices the price will depend on factors involving the real cost of production and distribution, meaning that cost to produce and market forces will need to be analyzed to set an appropriate price (Garrett, 2021).

Agroforestry producers will also have to work on promoting their products. This can entail advertising in print, on air, and via the internet. Trips to festivals and farmers markets can get the word out about products, as will offering free samples at events. The language used in promotion matters too. Terms like ‘green,’ ‘locally-grown,’ and ‘farm fresh’ are among those consumers find appealing (Garrett, 2021). Here’s an example of good social media use by Marie Harnois of Passamaquoddy Maple, a native-owned operation.

Passamaquoddy Maple maintains an active presence on Facebook. Harnois found that consumers engage more with personal content, such as sharing daily work activities. This content highlights the values they share with customers. They also use data from Google and Facebook to curate content and photos. Passamaquoddy Maple maintains a website for online sales. (Lim, 2021)

As we’ve seen, producers engaging in agroforestry and regenerative agriculture practices need to be more ‘scrappy’ than farms operating in the commodities market. Commodities markets have infrastructure in place that reduces risk and standardizes processes in such a way that risk inherent in marketing is greatly reduced. This holds true in timber markets as well (Garrett, 2021). Creative means of promoting agroforestry-derived products must be identified and employed, often going directly to stores and consumers and cutting out the middleman. Marketing cannot be an afterthought, but rather baked into the life of the small agroforestry enterprise, inviting people into an ethos and a story that will keep them talking to others and coming back for more.

References

Garrett, H. E. (2021). North American Agroforestry: An Integrated Science and Practice (3rd ed.). American Society of Agronomy.

Lim, M. (2021, May). Marketing Agroforestry Products: Lessons from Producers. Lincoln; USDA National Agroforestry Center.

Severson, K. (2007, October 17). Local Carrots With a Side of Red Tape. The New York Times. Retrieved October 12, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/17/dining/17carr.html.

Wolfe, S. (2009, January 30). Crunch Pak: Convenient, Healthy Snacking. Digital Magazine.