Across the country, farmers are exploring new opportunities by expanding their products or seeking new markets for their goods.
Pastured-poultry farmers Alex Hitt and Steve Moize had just learned that the owner of a local poultry-processing facility was packing up and selling his plant. With nowhere to have their birds cleaned and made oven-ready, Hitt and Moize knew they needed to do something.
The two farmers acted quickly, creating a cooperative called Growers’ Choice to purchase the facility. With the help of USDA’s Rural Development Cooperative Service, Growers’ Choice was able to keep the plant operating. A crash course in poultry-processing regulations had not been part of their farm plan recalls Hitt. “I knew that if this facility ever shut down, it would be impossible to get it open again. And the prospect of having to process all of those turkeys on our farm by hand was a strong motivating factor.”
This story is just one example of farmers across the nation who are adjusting to changes in the marketplace. As agricultural production becomes more global, American farmers are facing growing competition. With lower land prices, a looser regulatory climate and modern production technologies, foreign growers are often able to produce commodities at lower cost. In response, American farmers are tapping into demand for food that is nutritional, locally grown and produced in a sustainable manner. They are utilizing new information channels and creating new business models.
AFT brought together farmers and new markets advocates to discuss policy ideas that would increase incentives for farm entrepreneurship, alternative food processing, and community-based food distribution and markets. Participants heard from experts expressing support for additional federal marketing programs and funding.
Some ideas heard:
- The need to expand the Farmers’ Market Nutrition programs, which provide vouchers that allow senior citizens and WIC participants (women, infants and children) to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. They were also supportive of farm-to-school programs, which provide support for farmers who sell directly to school systems.
- More cooling, packing and sales facilities to give fruit and vegetable producers greater opportunities to serve local markets and add value to perishable products.
- An improved buying and handling infrastructure for growers of agricultural products, giving them more marketing options to preserve the unique identity of their goods.