An open letter to black market agents

Dear black market agents, over the years I’ve met most of you and have noticed two consistent themes.

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The first is a commendable enthusiasm to become a market agent. The second is concern about how to break into what is perceived as a ‘closed industry’. Many of you have asked me for advice and my answer has always been the same:

  • It’s never easy

Working in a free market economy on a commission basis is never easy. Ask any of your white colleagues and they’ll tell you that starting a market agency takes time and requires a lot of calling on farmers. Farmers don’t simply change from one agent to another.

  • It requires deep pockets

You will need enough money to finance your agency through the early years until it can sustain itself. It also means you should attend as many farmers’ days as possible and make regular visits to the various production regions. Don’t expect the world to come rushing to your doorstep to throw funds at you. You will have to get out there and make it happen yourself. Sadly, I don’t see enough black market agents doing this.

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  • Be pragmatic

Forget the minority of farmers who are still living in the dark ages. The majority are up to speed with the world around them and make business decisions, not emotional ones. Many of them support black market agencies and salespeople. They would only do that if they were satisfied with the agent’s service and had developed a good working relationship with that person.

  • Be realistic

If there is support of any kind, by all means grab it with both hands, but don’t look to government for help. It’s usually too little, too late. Also, don’t expect legislation to force farmers to support you. The strength of the commission system lies in the free association of all participants.

When you try to force someone to support another you create resentment and opposition. And the person or business it is meant to help ends up suffering anyway. To sum up, start travelling and mixing. Make yourself known. This business is all about relationships.

Mike Cordes is an agricultural journalist, consultant, trainer and former farmer.