Choose your markets

Younger farmers might find it hard to believe that their fathers had essentially one marketing option for fresh produce – the markets.

They might have grown for factories for processing, but no supermarkets were buying from them. It was also the time of single-channel marketing – control boards – for certain crops. There were boards for deciduous fruit, citrus, bananas and potatoes, and all farmers growing those crops were required by law to market their produce through that board. A farmer would receive weekly instructions from the board and would pack and supply accordingly. If the produce was not destined for export, then it landed on one of the fresh produce markets scattered around the country.

Orders to be obeyed
A farmer had no say in choosing a market, deciding on quantity, or even on selecting a date on when to despatch his produce. He did as he was told – and woe betide if he dared sell produce privately without getting the board’s permission! Thank goodness times have changed and farmers are now free to choose between a number of marketing options.

These include growing for a factory, selling directly off the farm, selling to local businesses or supplying a market, selling directly to supermarkets, adding value to the product, selling through the FGX online trading platform, or exporting.

Many farmers have a grower organisation to advise them. These provide a range of excellent services to their members, but they are not statutory bodies, so they have to survive on the strength of their performance. All of this ‘choice’ offers farmers excellent opportunities for growth and development.

Enter the consumer
Many have eagerly seized these opportunities and created sophisticated marketing operations. But there is always the other side to the coin. Because competition is so much more fierce, farmers stand or fall by the quality of their products and their marketing finesse. It’s not a scenario for the faint-hearted.

Then there’s the consumer. In earlier days, farmers didn’t give a thought to what consumers might or might not like. But that particular option has vanished in a world where the cliché ‘the customer is king’ reigns supreme. There might be more marketing choices but a farmer must understand them well to succeed.