By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- Opportunities for women producing specialty crops are growing, but it's important for producers to market their crop before growing it, speakers said at the Idaho Women in Agriculture conference on March 2 in Twin Falls.
Too often, producers spend 95 percent growing the crop and only 5 percent marketing it, said Kelly Olsen, administrator of the Idaho Barley Commission.
"Marketing has to have equal time and attention in our operations," she said.
Leah Clark, program manager for Idaho Preferred, agreed, saying producers looking to start a new venture or diversify need to think about marketing first, not last. Otherwise they might find they have nowhere to go with the crop they grew.
Idaho Preferred (IP), a program of the Idaho Department of Agriculture, offers one opportunity for producers to pre-market their goods, she said.
The program has nearly 300 member clients, who buy produce raised 100 percent in Idaho and products that contain at least 20 percent of foods raised completely in Idaho. The program's food and wine producers number nearly 150 today, having grown from 25 when the program began in 2003. IP facilitates grower-client relationships, and clients tell growers what they want them to grow or provide, she said.
Bread bakers, specialty food companies and nurseries also participate in the program, and IP also facilitates a growing farm-to-school program to get local foods into schools.
IP's efforts are supported by retail promotions, foodservice partnerships, educational programs, consumer events, advertising, a website and media opportunities.
Research has found consumers want to support local farmers and local economies and are willing to pay more for local foods, she said.
Idaho's Bounty, a co-op with about 90 producers, also facilitates relationships between producers and customers and is a tool for producers who want to direct market food, said Arlie Sommer, the co-op's Treasure Valley manager.
The co-op has 1,000 members, including producers, retail customers who primarily place weekly orders online, and wholesale customers. The co-op delivers 100 retail orders a week to hubs where customers can pick up their orders. It also delivers about 80 wholesale orders three times a week to restaurants, catering companies, cafeterias and others.
Gross sales run $15,000 to $20,000 a week with a monthly payout to producers. Gross sales in 2012 totaled more than $764,000, she said.
The co-op is focused on sales, distribution and social media, although it does lots of work to educate chefs. Community partners are crucial, and Idaho's Bounty flaunts its value through branded boxes, bags and signs, the said
Idaho's Bounty has room for more growers, particularly for produce grown in the shoulder seasons, especially fall crops that can be stored, she said.
The co-op also could use more farmers in specific areas, such as produce, fruit, dairy and dried goods, Lynea Petty, the co-op's general manager for orders, said on Tuesday.
Producers might also want to think about starting their own co-op, said Connie Falk, ag economics and agribusiness professor at New Mexico State University.
Co-ops enable producers to aggregate product, sell as a group and buy in bulk. It also allows them to market jointly, hire a marketing professional and focus on production, she said.
Idaho Preferred: www.idahopreferred.com
Idaho's Bounty: www.idahosbounty.org