By Elizabeth A. Davis
Thinking about starting a farm-based business? The University of Tennessee can help. Extension agents in each county offer assistance in testing soil fertility, determining the best crop for the soil and topography, and preparing budgets and financial plans.
The Center for Profitable Agriculture, a part of UT Extension, helps farmers expand or change their business model to include such direct-market activities as agritourism, pick-your-own crops and pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and sale of products like jam, milk, cheese, or specialty meats.
“More and more farmers are trying to direct market to consumers,” says Megan Bruch, marketing specialist at the Center for Profitable Agriculture based in Spring Hill.
“We do see a lot of people come to us who are traditional farmers, and others are next-generation farmers coming back to the farm,” she says. Their clients also include professionals or retirees starting a farm-based value-added enterprise, for example, honey and beeswax products, processed meats, or wool processing or spinning.
According to the most recent survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were 3,581 farms in Tennessee directly marketing to consumers, a 33 percent increase from 1997. Those farms accounted for only 4.5 percent of all farms in Tennessee, but they brought in $15.38 million in sales. Overall, more than 78,000 farms cover 10.9 million acres of the state’s land.
There is a greater demand today for local products that can be bought straight from a farm or at a farmers’ market.
“Local products may be fresher, taste better, and retain their nutritional value better,” Bruch says.
For farmers, it takes more time to market the products and handle the sales when selling directly to customers, but profits could increase.
“If done well, and the market in the area is good, they can earn a bigger share for their farm,” Bruch says.
For more information about the Center for Profitable Agriculture, visit http://cpa.utk.edu