Ag marketing means finding your niche

Adapting to change may be key to survival

By Janet Kubat Willette

OWATONNA, Minn. -- Finding a unique market may be key to farm survival in the 21st century.

Farmers can no longer produce something just because it's tradition or because they like to produce it, said Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson, speaking at an AgStar Financial Services forum targeted to young and beginning farmers.


Agriculture is continually changing, but how farmers adapt to that change may determine survival, he said.

Farmers need to find niches or something that sets them apart, Hugoson said.

Farmers Lonny and Sandy Dietz of Altura have diversified to set their farm apart. They have planted hardwood trees, seeded pasture for intensive grazing, sold at the farmers market and started a Community Supported Agriculture venture.

"The CSA is putting a face on the food," Dietz said.

Community Supported Agriculture is growing across the nation, he said. Under the framework, subscriptions are sold and subscribers share in the bounty and risk of harvest. Deliveries are made weekly throughout the growing season.

The Dietz family includes a newsletter with each week's delivery and strives to include vegetables that people wouldn't normally select at the grocery store. They have also partnered with other growers in southeastern Minnesota to offer meat and cheese to clients.

Many of their clients treat it like Christmas when their box of vegetables arrives weekly, digging in like children to see what new treats lie inside.

The Dietzes are involved with the Southeast Minnesota Food Network. The group has hired a full-time coordinator to market the products produced on the farm, hopefully giving producers some time to do other things. The goal is to market the products in southeastern Minnesota, capturing 10 percent of the money spent on food.


"The market is there," Dietz said. "They're looking for these goods."

Knowing the market is critical, said Gigi DiGiacomo, a Minnetonka-based economic consultant.

Before entering a market, farmers should learn about their target market, study the competition, study what competitors are charging before setting a price and calculate potential sales volume.

"These are just the basics of building a marketing strategy," she said.

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