By TIM HEARDEN
COLUSA, Calif. - There are many ways that new and beginning small farmers and ranchers can carve their own niche in the marketplace, experts told about two dozen growers during a workshop here.
Those include setting up tables at farmers' markets, selling to smaller stores or marketing directly to consumers through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program or online sales, said Penny Leff, who leads the University of California's Small Farm Program.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each method, and growers need to closely examine their operations' strengths and capabilities before embarking on a marketing strategy, Leff and other experts advised.
"You want to diversify your markets and get into various markets to minimize your risk," Leff said during the March 7 seminar at an industrial park here.
However, small farm operations shouldn't diversify too much, cautioned Cindy Fake, a UC Cooperative Extension horticulture and small farms advisor.
"Focus on a few crops and a primary market," said Fake, adding that some new growers who rent space at five or six farmers' markets a week end up losing money.
The advice came during an all-day direct-marketing and business essentials workshop hosted by the Colusa County Resource Conservation District, whose Colusa County Grown campaign highlights local farms.
Attendees received information on farmers' market certification and various state regulations and heard from a panel of local growers.
The workshop kicked off a week of instruction offered to small farm operators, hundreds of which were expected to attend the California Small Farm Conference March 10-12 in Fresno.
At the Colusa event, Fake said there are certain things small farmers must have to be successful, including a working business plan, a marketing plan, proper insurance and other risk-management tools and a system for managing the cash given to them by customers.
"Cash in your pocket is very difficult to hold onto," she said. "Put it in a cash box."
Both Fake and Leff said growers should determine what they can sell and where before they plant crops. They said early- and late-season crops tend to do well.
"You need to look at things you can grow that others can't grow," Fake said.
Colusa County Resource Conservation District: http://www.colusarcd.org/