Farmers need constructive feedback from market agents

Ask any market agent what the toughest aspect is about dealing with farmers, and the reply will probably be: “Criticising their products.”

They joke that a farmer’s produce is always ‘export grade’ while still on the farm. It’s only when it reaches the market that it suddenly becomes a lower grade. There are market agents who have lost a farmer to another agency because they dared criticise that farmer’s produce.

Pride vs ego
Farmers should be proud of their produce, but they should certainly not have over-inflated egos that cannot accept constructive criticism. It is, after all, a market agent’s duty to provide feedback on the quality, packaging, grading and general presentation of the produce. Failing to do so is neglecting his or her responsibility towards the client.

Equally, farmers should expect their market agents to offer constructive criticism, and be ready to address any shortcomings pointed out.

This ties in with what I always say: a farmer should visit the market as frequently as possible to gain insight into how a market functions. The farmer will then see what other producers are doing and better appreciate what a market agent has to say about the products delivered.

Criticising a farmer’s produce, of course, should be done in such a way as not to cause offence. Much depends on the relationship between market agent and farmer. If it is long-standing and has been built on trust, chances are that each party will have worked out how to handle constructive criticism from the other. In fact, it should be a cornerstone of their relationship.

Be open to criticism
The farmer who has a problem with constructive criticism will lose out in the end. His or her market agent will shy away from making comments on delivered produce – except positive ones – and the farmer will never get to know how to improve product standards. Farmers guilty of this type of behaviour usually blame the market or market agent for their woes, but never themselves.

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