4 Step Plan to Marketing in Agriculture

At the core of any successful business is a solid marketing plan. This holds true for any agriculture business, from a traditional cash grain operation to a small-scale produce operation, and everything in between. While the specific strategies of farms may be significantly different – some direct marketing to consumers and others selling a commodity product – all producers need to understand how sound marketing decisions are made. Below is a basic four-step plan that is applicable to any farm business:

  1. Know Yourself

As the operator of an agricultural operation, your mindset, attitude and knowledge directly effect the decisions made on your farm.Your tolerance toward risk is at the heart of how you approach marketing along with your goals, philosophy and marketing know-how. You need to recognize these factors to determine your readiness to handle marketing on your operation and the next steps.

  1. Know the Markets

After realizing your personal thoughts and values on marketing, it is important for you to make sure that you understand the market situation and outlook. What are the historical prices for products? Are there cycles, trends or seasonality? What drives the price movements of your product? What tools exist to help you market your product? Answering these questions will help you build a foundation to work from.

  1. Know Your Business

Next, take a hard look at your business including: current and projected production levels, cost of production and the point where you breakeven. Also, assess the risk capacity of your business by looking at available working capital, your debt-to-asset ratio and cash on hand. Creating a business plan will help you to better understand your operation’s goals and objectives and relate back to all of these points. Most of all, recognize that you are not alone. Your relationships with others such as lenders and consultants, as well as your ability to use other information sources, can help in your quest to knowing your operation.

  1. Know and Work the Plan

Marketing goals for any farm operation should be realistic. You should establish your desired profit margin and trigger points for your business. Execute your plan with discipline and regularly monitor its progress. You should continually reassess your strategy as the markets and your business change to review the total risks to the operation.

Although it is easy to get wrapped up in your daily duties on the farm, it is critically important to make marketing a priority on your farm operation. After all, as an agricultural producer, the success of your business is based on its ability to market and sell its products, no matter if it is corn, milk, beef, apples or fresh-cut flowers. Don’t automatically assume that your marketing strategy from 20, 10 or even two years ago still applies. Your marketing plan should constantly evolve and adapt to changes within your operation and marketplace.

Article courtesy of Raechel Sattazahn and AgChoice Farm Credit.

Link Photo courtesy of Paul Worthington

How do you approach marketing? Share with us your tips and ideas!




4 Lessons for Growing a Family Farm Across Generations

Article by Shannon Hayes

If there’s a romantic image that tugs at our heart strings as much as the thought of homegrown tomatoes, it’s that of the multi-generational family farm.

In a culture that has spurned the union of the generations—that frowns upon the thirtysomething living in his parents’ basement, mocks the new family who moves in with Grandma, offers condolence to the empty-nesters who take in an aging parent, builds television sitcoms about the interpersonal conflicts between married couples and the in-laws, and peddles financial products to discourage elders from ever being a “burden”—the family farm has been America’s great exception to the now-expected independent nuclear unit.

Farms proudly advertise the number of generations who have lived on the same land; signs are hung on the side of barns to commemorate the 100th continuous year of business within the same family; awards are handed out, stories written, legends passed down within rural communities celebrating the differences from father to son, mother to daughter.

And in an era when the rest of the country is discovering that breaking ourselves into nuclear units is coming at an ecological, financial, and emotional cost, the multigenerational family farm feels like the last cultural example we can turn to as a reminder of what might make for a viable future, whether the multiple generations are in the city, the suburbs, or on the land.

Three Family Farm Stories 

But this week I heard three painful stories about the tensions among the agrarian generations. One young farm family, now indebted more than $500,000 from an effort to take over the family farm, is being crippled from making sustainable changes on the land by both excessive financial burdens, and a lack of physical and emotional support from the older generation. Another farm family with children, who’d invested several years in building an organic enterprise on the family farm and buying out the parents, is finally abandoning its dreams and is trying to find land elsewhere, because the intergenerational conflicts were insurmountable. And a third couple, who moved back to take over the family farm a few years ago, has just moved out again, their efforts at reviving the land having met too much resistance. Their marriage is on the cusp of breaking up, too.

The Young Farmers

I know my generation can be a nuisance. We want everything instantly. We grew up with little to no training in financial literacy. We learned that controlling expenses wasn’t as critical as earning a big paycheck. And when the big paycheck never showed up, we were sold a bill of goods that we could afford more debt than was realistic. At the same time, we’re questioning how hard we want to work. We don’t ubiquitously buy into the idea that logging 80-100 hours of labor in a week is the best way to take care of family. And to add to matters, we’re expressing a lot of annoyance at the detritus bequeathed to us by our parents and grandparents: depleted fossil fuel reserves, excess carbon in the atmosphere, polluted water, environmental toxins, lost topsoil, nutrient-deficient foods, and the chronic illnesses that ensue from these things.

The Older Generation of Farmers

At the same time, the older generations have their burdens, too. The 401ks that seemed so cushy a few years back aren’t quite so robust. The vision of “golden years” spent golfing and playing tennis in sunny Florida have been replaced by fears over medical expenses and the humiliating prospect of lost independence. It’s hard to be generous with grown children when you feel insecure yourself … Especially when those kids enter the scene with crazy ideas about changing how the farm is managed and questioning the lifetime decisions of the elders; or they contrive newfangled ventures that seem risky.

My Farm Story

I moved back to my family’s farm in 1996, at the age of 22. While I spent a few years in graduate school, I came home every weekend and summer, and have been an active part of the business since that time. In the 17 years I’ve been involved with Sap Bush Hollow, I fell in love with a man, convinced him to move here to start a life together, began a family, and bit by bit have grown more deeply into the family business. Bob and I realized early on that my parents were too young and vibrant for us to simply “step in and take over,” and our different skill sets and personalities have required that we find unusual ways to blend with the family business. Some of our livelihood from the farm comes from actual labor, some of it comes from our own entrepreneurial ventures. We don’t live in the same house as my parents, which has its benefits and drawbacks.

It isn’t all butterflies and rainbows here, that’s for certain. We have arguments, we storm off, hang up on each other, and occasionally sit down and have some good cries. But after nearly 20 years, we’re still here, still working together on this business; still in agreement that this family farm offers the best possible life for all of us. Along the way, there have been a few lessons and practices that have really made a big difference in the viability of our intergenerational cooperation:

  1. The stated goal of the business. Posted on the wall of the farm office is a piece of paper, typed up maybe 25 years ago. Mom and Dad wrote it to express their goals and dreams. And the number one goal at the top of the page reads: We want to create a business that one or both of our children would want to run. It’s not saying that the kids have to take it over. It’s just saying that the quality of the venture needs to reflect the needs and desires of the next generation. Thus, every decision they make on that farm gets tested against this top goal. As the next generation, I have a sense of security that my thoughts and ideas matter, that Bob’s and my quality of life is critical to the success of Sap Bush Hollow.
  2. No one “owns” the land. I remember the day a neighboring farmer drove into the barnyard to talk to Mom and Dad about the financial potential of signing a lease to allow hydro-fracking on our land. Dad shrugged his shoulders and said he couldn’t help him. “It’s not my land,” he said.“Isn’t your name on the deed?”“Doesn’t matter.” He pointed to Saoirse and Ula, then about 5 and 2, who were tumbling across the front field. “It’s not mine. It’s theirs.”And that’s the tone around here. None of us owns it. It is forever owned by the next generation. Whoever has their name on the deed is a temporary steward. Thus, while Mom and Dad are counting on the farm to sustain them as part of their retirement, the land is not a source of retirement income. It is a resource for each successive generation. When Mom and Dad made a choice to buy a farm, they weren’t buying a retirement asset. They were securing a resource for the family and its subsequent generations.For Bob and me, this means we’ll never “own” the land, either. We derive benefit from the resources it offers, and it is our job to bridge to the next generation, and to help make sure Mom and Dad will be able to be comfortable in their retirement, without having to sell that land.
  3. Avoid debt. Keeping the farm in the family is a lot easier when the bank doesn’t have a lien on the property. At Sap Bush Hollow, we’ve been masters at diversifying our income with small ventures that are not capital-intensive, which keeps us in control of the money and out of debt. And all of us are pretty skilled at living on the cheap. One of the many benefits is that there is a lot less stress between the generations. Interestingly, since thrift and frugality is a defining quality of our family culture, we find it easy to be generous and trusting with each other. No one worries about someone else wasting money.
  4. The most important “product” is the next generation. There is an agreement across the family that Saoirse and Ula are number one. This means that homeschool is not squeezed into the interstices between loading cattle and chasing pigs. The teaching space and time is sacred. Family meals are of paramount importance. Adequate rest to allow for a calm, happy family life is critical. And their safety matters above all else. As the parents, this makes Bob’s and my job a lot easier. We don’t feel as though our fidelity to the family business is questioned when we need to honor our commitments to our children. The person who leaves farm work to prepare the daily meal, teach the kids, or maintain the home is as valuable as the one making hay.


We didn’t start out in our family venture knowing all these rules for success. Over the years, we’ve grown into them, and a lot of the lessons were learned the hard way, through emotionally trying experience.

I’d be a fool to suggest that these were the only keys to success, and I’d be even more of a fool to argue that, because of these attributes, our farm will be “sustainable.” No one ever really knows the answer to that question. All I can say is that for 17 years, life has been good. So good, in fact, that I can say I am happy where I am, and that everyone in the Sap Bush Hollow family seems to share the daily intentions to continue the quality of life we have.

Certainly, these words cannot salve the pain of those three farm families I mentioned earlier. What’s done is done. We’ve entered an era that asks us to un-learn the last 60 years of cultural conditioning, and to reclaim wisdom from generations that are nearly gone. It isn’t easy, and our lessons are hard-won. But hopefully we will hold onto the rediscovered wisdom this time, pass it along to our children, and enable each successive generation to grow up comfortable in walking sustainably on this earth.

Article courtesy of Yes! Magazine.

Link photo courtesy of Peter Blanchard



The Real Story about Farm Animal Care

Submitted by: Heini Hehli, dairy producer and chair of Alberta Farm Animal Care

Anger and disappointment is what I felt when I saw the recent CTV W5 video about the abuse of pigs. This was for two reasons: why is animal cruelty still happening? And secondly, the other side of this story was not covered. I suppose a farmer caring for their animals doesn’t sell advertising.

I’m not a pork producer, but as a dairy farmer, I didn’t like seeing these images any more than another consumer. This is how I see farming: if our cows aren’t happy, they don’t produce high quality milk. It’s in my best interest to make sure my group of girls are well taken care of. I do whatever it takes to ensure they have comfortable bedding, nutrient-dense feed and even scratchers to get that itch. I also spend several hours with my cows twice a day at milking, so I get an opportunity to see each individual cow to make sure they are healthy and treat those that are ill.

Additionally, dairy farmers in Canada have updated their Code of Practice that sets the standard for actions on the farm. Abuse and negligence are not accepted, period. Dairy Farmers of Canada and the National Farm Animal Care Council have collaborated with scientists, government experts and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies to ensure that this Code works. Our Code is well-respected as it exceeds the majority of the standards of humane livestock treatment.

We also continue to work with animal care groups, such as the SPCA, through the Alberta Farm Animal Care. Alberta Farm Animal Care is a group that is dedicated to improving all farm livestock treatment. I’m very proud to be the chair, and in this capacity, I’m able to work with all industry groups and stakeholders to make sure we are respecting farm animals. And I know that the vast majority of livestock producers take animal welfare and care very serious. We have tools in place such as an emergency number where anyone can anonymously call and report any farm animal abuse. These cases are pursued by the SPCA, RCMP and veterinarians, if needed.

This pig abuse story is a reminder that as livestock producers, we need to be more proactive in showing the good side of producers caring for animals. I encourage all producers to help show their commitment to strong animal care in any way they can. Consumer trust is very important to us and I invite anyone who is interested in knowing more about how we in dairy (or other species) care for our animals, to please contact a local producer organization. At Alberta Milk, for example, farmers are open to people wanting to tour a farm to see what the real story of agriculture is.


Fly Control for Beef Cattle

Article by Paul Gonzalez, North Carolina Cooperative Extension

My position allows me to work with a variety of producers.  All of them have their own philosophy on how to raise cattle.  No matter how different these may, be they all ask some of the same questions.  One of these is, “What is the best thing for flies?”  I have had this question quite a bit this year, as the flies seem to be worse than normal.  There isn’t really a “best thing” for flies.  What works in one herd may not in another.  The producer with 20 cows may have more time to devote to the herd than a producer with 200.  There are many control programs and all can be effective.  Each producer should consider the options and choose the one that is best for his individual situation.

Horn flies are probably the most important economic fly pest on the list.  They are called horn flies because they tend to congregate at the base of the horns on horned cattle.  In this area we typically find them on the shoulders, down the backs, and on either side of the tail head on cattle.  As the population gets larger, they will spread down the sides onto the legs. Horn flies feed on blood and tend to feed continuously while on the animal.  Five hundred horn flies will remove a pint of blood each day from the host animal.  While a cow is a large animal with a fairly large blood supply, it won’t take many days to become anemic losing this much blood each day.  In the middle of summer, it is not uncommon to find as many as 2,000 flies on an untreated cow and 4,000 to 5,000 on untreated bulls.  Horn flies remain on the host animal all the time.  This fact aids in our efforts to control them.

Face flies, houseflies, and lesser house flies do not feed on blood but cause problems by pestering the cattle and spreading certain diseases.  These flies feed on the secretions from the eyes and nose of the host animal.  Obviously, this would be a source of constant irritation to the animal.  There is also evidence that these flies help spread pinkeye in the herd.  All three of these fly species tend to move from animal to animal, never spending much time on any individual, which makes controlling them more of a challenge.

Stable flies are blood feeders like horn flies but their feeding pattern is like that of the face and houseflies.  They tend to move from animal to animal feeding on each as they go.  Stable flies have been implicated in the transmission of anaplasmosis in cattle.  Anaplasmosis is a blood disorder in cattle that is on the rise in southern herds.  These flies can be effectively controlled by cleaning up old hay piles around feeding sites so that they have no place to lay eggs.

So what can we do to control these pests?  Two insecticides are on the market that can be fed to the animals through various carriers, the most common being a mineral supplement, which are then excreted in the manure.  The flies lay eggs in the manure for the developing larvae to feed on.  The insecticide in the manure stops the larval development and therefore eliminates the emergence of adult flies.  These insecticides have no affect on adult flies.  Since the adults only live for 2 to 3 weeks, control is achieved after this first generation dies.  However, if a neighboring herd (within 2 to 4 miles) is not under a fly control program, there can still be large numbers of adult flies present.  This would dictate using an additional control method or a completely different strategy.

Other control methods include insecticide ear tags, back rubs, dust bags, and hand-applied sprays, dusts, and pour-ons.  The insecticide ear tags, also called fly tags, offer very effective control by killing flies present on the animal and repelling flies that may come at a later date.  Fly tags should not be applied until there are approximately 200 flies per animal present and should be removed in the fall to help prevent pesticide resistance in the fly population.  To further prevent the pesticide resistance, producers should rotate tags used, by active ingredient.  Use an organophosphate tag for two years followed by a pyrethroid tag for one year.  Most fly tags on the market offer protection for 4 to 5 months.  Back rubs and dust bags charged with pesticide are very effective in controlling flies if placed where animals will use them.  Many older cattle will voluntarily use these but others must be forced to use them.  Placing them so that cattle must go under them when accessing water or minerals or from one pasture to another can do this.  The drawback to these devices is that they must be recharged every week or two.  Many times we put them up and then forget to service them during the summer.   The sprays, dusts, and pour-ons work well in most cases.  The biggest problem associated with these is their need to be re-applied every 2 to 3 weeks.  This becomes very labor intensive.  Most of the pour-ons on the market now will provide longer control but still won’t last all season.  One product now claims to have nine-week effectiveness, indicating that you can treat cattle twice during a year and have season long control.

Failure to implement a fly control program for your herd causes reduced performance and lost income.  It is generally thought that every $1 spent on fly control returns $5 to $10.  Some producers think they can’t afford to control flies.  Truth is, they can’t afford not to


Article courtesy of North Carolina Cooperative Extension

Link Photo courtesy of Andy Carter

Want to learn to make your own fly spray? Check out our article DIY fly spray for Horses

How do you handle flies on your cattle? Share with us the method that works best for you.


Handling Differences Productively

Article by Gregorio Billikopf Encina
Wherever choices exist there is potential for disagreement. Such differences, when handled properly, can result in richer, more effective, creative solutions. But alas, it is difficult to consistently turn differences into opportunities. When disagreement is poorly dealt with, the outcome can be contention. Contention creates a sense of psychological distance between people, such as feelings of dislike, alienation, and disregard.

When faced with challenges, we tend to review possible alternatives and come up with the best solution given the data at hand. Unwanted options are discarded. While some decisions may take careful consideration, analysis and even agony, we solve others almost instinctively. Our best solution becomes our position or stance in the matter. Our needs, concerns and fears all play a part in coming up with such a position. Misunderstanding and dissent grow their ugly heads when our solution is not the same as theirs.

Several foes often combine to create contention.

  • Our first enemy is our natural need to want to explain our side first. After all, we reason, if they understood our perspective, they would come to the same conclusions we did.
  • Our second enemy is our ineffectiveness as listeners. Listening is much more than being quiet so we can have our turn.
  • Our third enemy is fear. Fear that we will not get our way. Fear of losing something we cherish. Fear we will be made to look foolish.
  • Our fourth enemy is the assumption that one of us has to lose if the other is going to win. That differences can only be solved competitively.

The good news is that there are simple and effective tools to spin positive solutions out of disagreements. But let not the simplicity of the concepts obscure the challenge of carrying them out consistently.



Tools for Improved Communication

Two principles have contributed so much to the productive handling of disagreements that it is difficult to read about the subject in popular or scholarly works without their mention. The first principle, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” was introduced by Steven Covey, inSeven Habits of Highly Effective People. If we encourage others to explain their side first, then they will be more apt to listen to ours.

Let me illustrate. As a researcher I sometimes need to interview farm personnel on their feelings about various subjects. It takes trust on the part of farmers to permit me to interview employees on what are often sensitive issues. While I have been quite successful, one day I came across a farm owner who was less than enthusiastic about my project. It was clear from his words and tone that I would not be interviewing anyone at this farm enterprise. I switched my focus to listening.

The farmer shared concerns on a number of troublesome issues. Eventually we parted amiably and half way to my vehicle the farmer yelled, “Go ahead!”

“Go ahead and what?” I inquired somewhat confused. To my surprise he retorted, “Go ahead and interview my workers.” I had long discarded any hope of talking to any of the personnel at this ranch, but the Covey principle was at work.

The second communication principle was introduced by Roger Fisher and William Ury in their seminal work, Getting to Yes. Simply stated, it is that people in disagreement focus on their positions when instead they should be focusing on their needs. By focusing on positions we tend to underscore our disagreements. When we concentrate on needs, we find we have more in common than what we had assumed. Ury and Fisher then went on to say that when we focus on needs we can attempt to satisfy the sum of both our needs and their needs.

When the light goes on we realize that it is not a zero sum game, where one person has to lose for the other to win. Nor is it necessary to solve disagreements with a lame compromise. Instead, often both parties can be winners.

Putting it all together

If we come right out and tell someone that we disagree, we are likely to alienate the person. On the other hand, if we put all our needs aside to focus on another person’s perspective, problems may also develop. The other party may think we have no needs and may then be taken aback when we introduce them all of a sudden.

In order to avoid such unproductive shock, I like the idea of saying something along these lines: “I see that we look at this issue from different perspectives. While I want to share my needs and views with you later, let me first focus on your thoughts and observations.” At this point we can put our needs aside, attempt to truly listen, and say: “So, help me understand what your concerns are regarding ….”

That is the easy part. The difficulty comes in fulfilling our resolution to really listen. We must resist the tendency to interrupt with objections no matter how unfounded some of the comments may seem. Nor can we, as we said earlier, fill our time composing the perfect comeback.

I distinctly remember one circumstance where I found myself conversing with a fellow, and while he spoke, telling him, “I understand.” I was suddenly struck that what I was doing was not effective listening. My interest was more in having him finish quickly so I could present my perspective, rather than in understanding him.

Instead of telling someone that we understand, we can be much more effective by revealing exactly what it is that we understand. It is necessary not only to comprehend, but for the other person to feel understood. Once both of us have laid out our concerns, we can then focus on finding a creative solution.

For more information on handling differences, see Conflict Management chapter under book.
Link Photo courtesy of Jesse Millan

For more from Gregorio check out his website Agricultural Labor Management

If you liked this article and want to learn more about how to handle differences effectively, check out Brady Wilson in “Conversation Skills: The Operating System”.


Hydroponic Gardening in Your Apartment

This book will teach you how to build a hydroponic system to grow plants, herbs or vegetables in your apartment. Using IKEA components that are cheap to buy and easy to find, anyone can follow the instruction manual and get farming in their apartment fast, efficiently and and for a very low cost.

Check out ELIOOO for more info!


What are your thoughts on hyrdoponic sytems for indoor veggie gardens? If you have one or have some thoughts, please share!

If you’re interested in urban farming, permaculture and growing your own food, you should also check out the interview we did with Ron Berezan a while back – The Urban Farmer