Plovgh is a cooperative of farmers, growers, and ranchers that sell directly to their customers.
Supply and demand. It sounds so easy in theory. It gets much more complicated when you’re a farmer wondering what that elusive Market wants from you this year. Here, using lessons we’ve learned from farms across the country and the questions we get from your buyers ALL THE TIME, we break down the process of market planning into six steps so you can buy seed and plant your crops with the assurance that that crop will sell at the prices you need, to buyers you are proud to work with.
Follow this template as a way of organizing your information as we go through the steps. We’ll use an example of the red, yellow, and blue balloons we produce to illustrate each step. Request a copy for yourself by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and start yourself on the path to marketing your crop…in January!
1. Determine what you’re best at growing, what you most enjoy producing, what you make the most money on, or what you’re most interested in selling at quantity.
This first step will be unnecessary for those of you already specializing in a few signature items. For those of you producing dozens of varieties, we find it’s helpful to choose your top 10-12 items and make sure you have a solid marketing plan for those.
Lizzy’s Farm produces red, yellow, and blue balloons. I’ve listed them in the first section of my spreadsheet like so:
2. Explain why someone should buy your products.
Most farmers know intuitively what is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING about their crops. When talking to buyers, though, rarely do they do justice to the unique and valuable attributes of their products. So, what’s so great about your sweet corn, green beans, or onions? Talk about color, size, texture, flavor. Give the buyer confidence that you know your product and will deliver the quality they seek.
In my spreadsheet, I’ve written a brief but informative description for each of the types of balloons that Lizzy’s Farm produces.
3. Determine the quantity you could reasonably expect to harvest.
What quantity of each of your crops do you think you’ll have available? It’s easy to estimate, gives you a clearer picture of how much marketing and distribution work you have ahead of you, and gives your buyers even more confidence that you are the producer to work with (like it or not, they have a lot of choices). Of course, you could have a bumper crop, or utter failure. That’s part of the excitement of agriculture. But try to give some indication of how much you’ll be producing. Doing so will help you in Step 6 also - should you target buyers with 22 store locations, or restaurants with a walk-in fridge?
Based on the 300 acres under production, I estimate that I’ll have 1000 lbs each of red, yellow, and blue balloons in the 2014 season.
4. Identify ways that you could conceivably package your crops.
Outline the possibilities that are reasonable for your farm, staff, and the crop itself. Don’t say you can bunch those greens if you don’t have the people, time, or twist-ties with which to make that happen! Start considering these packaging options distinct items in your inventory because they come with different costs and appeal to different buyers.
My balloons come in grades A, B, and C. I don’t want to pack individual units, but I can easily do 3 lb bags, 1 1/9 bushel boxes, and 100 lb bins of my balloons. That gives me 27 DIFFERENT PRODUCTS to tell buyers about.
5. Determine BASED ON YOUR COSTS how much you NEED to make on your crop.
This step is not about setting a price. Rather, it is about figuring out what you must make in order to break even. An estimate is okay! When you’re at the peak of the season and you have a bumper crop of eggplant that needs to sell immediately, you’ll have a reference point for deciding whether to take that large quantity order at a slightly lower price than you had hoped for, or spare yourself the time and labor. This step also leads into the next one…
I look at the fixed costs of my enterprise, those that don’t change no matter how much I decide to grow, as well as the variable costs of my production, those that go up the more seed I buy, time it takes to plant, water it takes to grow, labor required to harvest, etc. I come up with the BREAKEVEN price I’d need in order to not lose money on this crop. That way, if a buyer offers me just more than that to purchase a large quantity, I have a reference point for deciding whether to take the offer.
6. Decide who your ideal buyers are.
Your ideal customer should be based on how you can reasonably pack your crop and what prices you need for it, NOT your dream of being in the produce aisle at your local coop. If you’re selling by the 1000 lb bin, don’t consider a local restaurant your ideal buyer. Focus instead on a grocer that has three or four stores in your nearest city. Many of the farmers we work with are finding that their local market is pretty well exhausted, and they’re in search of regional and even beyond-regional buyers. Luckily, Plovgh’s network is there to support them! The point is, make sure you’re being realistic about the types of buyers you can serve.
Lots of people like balloons! But my low prices (I own my land, and balloons don’t require much time once they’re in the ground) and the way I pack make my products - all 27 of them - make me a good fit for mid-sized grocers. I’d like to tell some of them about the balloons I’m growing this year, and Plovgh is an easy way to do that!
In the next segment, we’ll take your answers to these questions and turn them into a plan that you can communicate to buyers so you go into spring with a clear picture of what your season’s going to look like. If you’ve got other suggestions for your fellow farmers, share them in the discussion below!
If you’d like to discuss your farm’s market needs with Mallory or Lizzy, you can sign up here. We’d be happy to talk with you!
Farms have seen up to $1,350 in a single transaction on Plovgh. As a Plovgh farm member, you can expect to plan for your season, connect with buyers, streamline customer orders, and get fast payment for your crops all in one place. Click here to register your farm!
Basic farm membership
Cooperative farm membership
$50/year when you join with at least five other producers
Independent farm membership
$250/year when you join as an individual producers
At Plovgh we’re rethinking commerce. We’re building a platform for a community of people to produce, trade, and move crops from farms directly to individuals. As we grow and prepare for the next stage of Plovgh, we’re searching for people to help support the team in areas of social media, marketing and producer recruitment.
Intern responsibilities will include but are not limited to: Assisting in the execution of social media strategy across multiple platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.); Supporting recruitment of potential producers to sell on Plovgh, including some data entry; Compiling articles, links, podcasts and other sources for a daily news digest; Conducting research on food and agricultural policy, neighborhood/census data, etc.; General administrative support; Conceiving and assisting with content creation
* Access to a personal computer
* Detail oriented with excellent communication skills
* Writing experience (blog or other published content)
* Experience with content management and editing, particularly in Tumblr
* Familiarity with a variety of social networks
* Experience with Google Apps, Dropbox and MailChimp
* Marketing or graphic design experience is a plus
* Interest in agriculture, food, technology, new economy
This position is based out of our Brooklyn office, and requires at least two full time days per week, preferably on site. Start and end dates are flexible. The position is unpaid but we can offer a travel stipend, start up experience and coffees courtesy of Plovgh.