Challenging times bring opportunities to connect with customers

A young beef producer shares how her family is finding opportunities for business and consumer engagement during the COVID-19 crisis.

Despite the challenges currently facing Canadian agriculture among other sectors, Amanda Brodhagen is determined to stay positive.

While much about the ongoing situation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic worries Brodhagen, this young beef producer reminds herself things could be much worse. In that light, she’s choosing to focus on the opportunities it presents for her family’s cow-calf operation at Stratford, Ontario, as well as for agriculture in general.

“Any time these things are happening, obviously there’s a level of danger, and there’s a level of opportunity, and we need to be focusing on the opportunity because this is only the beginning,” said Brodhagen, who farms with her parents and brother. She also works in marketing and is a rural councillor for Perth County.

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One such opportunity for her family’s operation came with the recent focus on supporting local businesses. The Brodhagens finish all their own cattle, and they saw an advantage as more people expressed an interest in purchasing locally produced food. Their commercial herd consists of Angus, Limousin and Simmental genetics, and their entire herd, including cattle on feed, is generally around 100 head, though that number fluctuates through the year.

“We calve a couple times a year just so that we have a consistent supply of animals that we’re raising up to finish to sell to the market, and that was a decision that my parents made during the BSE years,” said Brodhagen.

They sell the majority of their finished cattle through the Ontario Livestock Exchange in Kitchner-Waterloo, Ont. They also direct market some of their beef to friends and family, working with a small processing facility and local butcher, and recently had the opportunity to wholesale their beef.

With uncertainty in the beef industry, the public’s focus on supporting local farmers prompted Brodhagen and her family to discuss how they can increase their direct marketing to make the most of this situation.

“What if instead of worrying about the price of what we’re going to get for our animals, why don’t we sell some of our beef to more people?” she said. “Why don’t we promote that?”

This, however, isn’t as simple as it sounds. Although their program allows them to have cattle ready for slaughter throughout the year, existing processing backlogs at large and small facilities across Ontario have only increased through the spring. Thankfully, they were able to book a processing spot for July.

“That’s the soonest that we could get in,” she said. “Normally it would be much quicker that we could get an animal processed.”

While this is a positive opportunity, Brodhagen is concerned about continuing this method of marketing in the current landscape, given processing capacity and other factors.

“I worry about…when’s the next time we’re going to get another animal processed?” she said. “The fact that we weren’t planning for this means that there’s a lot to think through.”

Sharing everyday experiences to build consumer engagement

Using this time as an opportunity to connect with the public is something Brodhagen has been considering often these days. This came up in May when she had the chance to speak about opportunities in the industry with a 4-H beef club during a virtual meeting.

“With everyone at home right now and everyone consuming a lot of content online, there’s a huge opportunity for us to be telling our story and sharing things. That could even be in a small way,” she said.

She regularly shares videos and photos of her everyday experiences on social media, and she’s found these glimpses into farming resonate with friends outside of the industry.

“I have a lot of non-agriculture people on my Facebook particularly, and I had two people who aren’t from agriculture say, ‘you know, I love seeing your cows. It just makes me so happy,’” she explained. “I just don’t think anything of it because I’m around it every single day…If that is something that makes you feel good when you’re at home, then fantastic.”

Sharing your world and daily practices may lead to opportunities beyond fostering engagement with consumers.

“People are so keenly interested, and you’d be surprised — people that don’t necessarily ‘like’ your post but are following what you’re doing, and you don’t realize until they send you a direct message and ask you questions,” said Brodhagen. This could lead to sales of your own beef or the chance to connect friends to producers in other sectors.

“I’ve had friends from Toronto message me and say, ‘Amanda, who can you recommend that are good farmers that I can buy from? What do you suggest, or what do you think about this? How can I support farmers?’”

About the author

Field editor

Piper Whelan

Piper Whelan is a field editor with Canadian Cattlemen. She grew up on a purebred, Maine-Anjou ranch near Irricana, Alta., and previously wrote for Top Stock, Western Horse Review, and various beef breed publications.

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