Farmers are not a generic, homogenous group.
If you’re new to the ag business, you, like many first-time ag marketers, may assume that farmers are a homogeneous group. After all, farmers only represent one percent of the population. Once you peel away the demographics layer, how different can they really be? Very different in terms of attitudes, lifestyles and buying behaviors, not to mention what they raise, how big they are, who’s involved and where they farm. So for ag marketing rookies, one of the first priorities should be to get acquainted with the variety of farms and farmers out there.
Consider one county, one hour from Chicago.
In this one county in eastern Illinois there are 818 farms of varying size and tenure according to the USDA Census of Agriculture. Some operations have several full-time employees and family members supporting the grain, livestock and trucking enterprises. Others use seasonal help, and some earn their primary income off the farm. Within a one-mile section of the county, there are first-generation farms and many that have existed for six or more generations.
Drive around this little county. It won’t take long; it’s only about 675 square miles. You’ll see corn and soybean farms with on-farm storage and some without. You’ll see outdoor hog production and confinement swine operations, rotational grazing dairies and free-stall barns, seed stock beef operations and small feedlots, layer and broiler operations, and brown-egg and free-range chicken farms. There are commercial and retail greenhouse operations, wholesale nursery and sod farms, hydroponic operations, Christmas tree farms, gladiolus farms and vegetable farms selling wholesale or running farm stands.
Six Lifetime Friends All Operate Differently
These corn and soybeans farmers have been friends since grade school. One custom-finishes pigs. One is an electrician. Another is a Pioneer seed dealer. They all have very different brand loyalties – or no brand loyalties – when it comes to seed, ag retailers, equipment and even pick-up trucks. Some of these farmers are loyal to cooperatives; a couple put out RFPs every year with some decisions based on assurance of product availability and service more than price. Among this group, operating capital, equipment loans and mortgages are sourced from community banks, equipment companies, coops or retailers and/or global banks.
By the way, they all don’t wear plaid collared shirts, work boots and ball caps. Some wear Nike T-shirts, Ray-Ban sunglasses and Keen sneakers. Chances are, though, all these farmers have smart phones and check them several times a day for markets and weather. A couple may receive texts from their wives running the combines and waiting for the next semi to arrive.
Don’t Make the Rookie Assumption about Farmers
You get the picture. Farmers are far from homogeneous, and our marketing should reflect it. Go see for yourself – you don’t have to go far. Just one county an hour outside of Chicago offers a wide range of farms and farmers with nearly inexhaustible combinations of enterprises, production practices and decision-making strategies.
Sources: 2012 USDA Ag Census; Personal observation.