Marketing by definition is the commercial process involved in promoting, selling and distributing a product or service. In agriculture we think of marketing as selling our calves, our grain or our hay. These are all products that we sell. Who can we contact to get the best price? We might also have to think about transportation cost to sell that product. What if we don t have any products? Some producers might market their services as a custom operator. Custom silaging, custom haying, custom swathing we need to promote our ability to provide a good service at a fair price. I run a custom grazing and feeding operation. I promote my ability as a manager to get good gains for a good price. What do you market?
Here is a question for you. I am a custom grazier, what is the most important part of my business? If I am a good grazier but can t get the land to graze, or maybe I can t find the cattle to graze on the land, does it matter how good I am at the production practice? I have learned by experience that the most important skill in my business is in human resources. My ability to communicate is far more important than my skill as a grazier.
I deal with more than 20 different landowners in my pasture rentals. I have had up to eight different customers in one season that supply me cattle. To acquire and hold on to land at a rental rate that still allows me to take home some profit has been a challenge. I have turned down land that does not give me my desired 40 per cent rent ratio. Sometimes I need to market other aspects to the landowner. Can I provide other services or benefits to him besides cash that might help us both have a win/win situation?
I want to make a profit. What do they want? To some landowners, I can provide fire control or brush control. I have established shelterbelts and improved biodiversity for some. I can improve aesthetics by improving pastures and controlling weed issues. I can create and allow good hunting grounds as well as protecting riparian areas. There are many different aspects of my management that I market.
Have you ever supplied photographs of dung beetles in dung pats to get your rent lower? I have and it worked. I have had other producers offer my landowners more money to rent their land, but because of the positive relationship I have created and the other benefits I have provided them, I still have the land.
I have also found that customers come and go. Sometimes it is their decision not to return, sometimes it is mine, but I will say that I never want to burn a bridge on purpose. This is not always possible when dealing with human resources but I look at business relationships as advertising. Each relationship I have with a customer, landowner, buyer, trucker, salesman or anyone else associated with my business, is advertising for the next relationship. Word of mouth is a powerful force and I would love to keep it in my favour if possible. Again, is this a type of marketing? I am marketing myself.
I have also developed another profit centre on my operation. I have figured out how to market my mistakes. I like to experiment and try new ideas. They don t always work but I like to think that I will only lose money at something once. I am a little outside the box and stray away from traditional agricultural ideas. But from my mistakes, I have learned a lot. I always have a calculator handy and like to work out the profitability of a new idea. Producers and extension agents started inquiring about some of my management practices. I started to work with the Sustainable Grazing Mentorship Program and began providing one on one mentorship services to producers. Repeatedly I was asked to speak at seminars and conferences. My mistakes seemed quite interesting to folks so I decided to develop a small grazing school. I began travelling all over teaching grazing management ideas to producers. This gradually developed into a three-day Ag businesses School. I now travel all across Canada and even into the U.S. to teach my mistakes. I host a pasture walk every year and speak at dozens of seminars and conferences. This is a very unique profit centre I have created and I am quite proud of it. It keeps me busy in the off-season and is very rewarding and enjoyable for me.
My question to you is, What other goods or services can you market on your farm? Do you have a unique skill, product or service that you could sell? Sit down and brainstorm. Maybe you can surprise yourself with what you can market, when you put your mind to it.