Specialty Agriculture: A Closer Look at Direct Marketing Issues

Today, the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research examined opportunities and challenges faced by farmers who directly market their agricultural products to consumers.

Unlike many farmers who produce widely traded fungible crops like corn and soybeans, specialty crop growers who operate organic farms or focus on the production of agricultural products that are less widely traded in established markets, often sell their products directly to end users. Examples of these direct marketing outlets may include sales at local farmers markets, direct sales to restaurants, or sales to grocery stores.

Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Davis (R., Il.) indicated at today’s hearing that, “Entrepreneurial efforts of individual producers certainly drive success in direct marketing ventures. Nevertheless, as producers seek to develop new marketing channels for their products, it is important for the subcommittee to get their perspective on the opportunities they see, the challenges they encounter, and what programs can help facilitate further development of these alternative marketing channels.”

And Subcommittee ranking member Suzan DelBene (D., Wash.) stated at today’s hearing that, “The consumers I talk to are increasingly interested in a food system where sales occur at the shortest possible distance from field to fork…[T]his trend has opened up new markets for food raised by producers who take pride in not only growing a quality product but also telling a compelling story. Urban and rural residents are learning that they like to have direct connections to farmers and farm life.”

Kurt Tonnemaker, a farmer from Washington state, provided additional perspective at today’s hearing: “At a farmers market, we stand face to face with the person who will eat our fruit. We are personally responsible for that fruit. For farmers markets, the imperativeness of customer satisfaction relegates, to marginal importance, all other concerns in fruit production and marketing.”

Another producer testified to the future concerns that businesses might face when directly marketing their agricultural products: “Many questions remain about how [the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)] will be implemented and the affiliated costs to farmers and state agencies. Mid-sized farms marketing through direct and intermediated channels and those seeking to scale up to do so will likely need to implement new practices and add to existing farm infrastructure. Funding to support training for these farms in FSMA requirements will be essential.”

As demand for specialty and organic crops continues to grow, entrepreneurial opportunities in the agricultural sector will likely increase. Congress may enlarge policy focus on ways to provide assistance, or remove barriers, to producers who seek to develop additional business activity in this sector.

And unlike more traditional grain and soybean production, which is focused in the more rural areas of the Midwest, because of its smaller scale, and the increasing consumer popularity of organic and locally grown farm produce, lawmakers from more urban areas will likely have a keen interest in these issues as well.

This entry was posted in Agriculture Law. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.