Massillon, Ohio -- Small farm owners who want to tap into the growing demand for local foods and learn more about selling directly to grocery stores and restaurants can get tips from the experts during a small farm conference on March 31 in Massillon, Ohio.
The "Living Your Small Farm Dream" conference and trade show is designed to help producers learn to build relationships and understand customer needs, which can lead to increased farm profits, said a pair of Ohio State University Extension educators.
To be successful selling directly to restaurants and grocery stores means learning how to build relationships with customers to better understand what local means and what a customer's needs are, said Eric Barrett, an OSU Extension agriculture educator.
"We've just hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to local foods, and growers need to know that they don't have to be a big farm organization to take part in direct selling," Barrett said. "You can be a small farm and still provide products to grocery stores and restaurants year-round.
"The key is relationship building and understanding what attributes people are looking for and how to meet consumer trends."
Barrett will discuss this and more as part of his conference presentations, "Top Ten Trends in Local Foods and How You Can Profit From Them," "Rules and Regulations for Direct Marketing Food Products" and "Lessons Learned from Successful Farmers Markets."
The conference, which will be held at the R.G. Drage Center (6805 Richville Drive SW), will feature more than 20 sessions from Ohio State and industry experts and a trade show for small farmers that will offer information that can benefit a variety of growers, said Mike Hogan, an OSU Extension educator and Small Farm Program coordinator.
About 200 people are expected to attend the conference. The overall goal of the event is to teach farmers, producers and growers how to connect with buyers and to know the importance of marketing to make sure they understand what it takes to be successful in marketing their agricultural products, he said.
"Historically, we've been price takers, where we sell our products based on a price that is offered," Hogan said. "But marketing helps farmers set their price more effectively because it helps them to define more specifically what their product is and what price they can get for it.
"It's a better way to increase profit and margins."
For example, there are many reasons why a person might buy a product. So if a farmer or producer can figure out who would be interested in the product and why, then they could be in a better position to define and set their own price, he said.
"Consumers are looking for attributes these days, so if you can figure out who is interested in your product and what your product is, such as organic, free-range, hormone-free, pasture-raised or heirloom, for example, you can better market the product for a larger profit," Hogan said. "We want to help farmers think differently about their products, about how to market the item before you even produce it.
"If you can figure out what about your product applies to a certain consumer, you can better determine why someone should buy it from you. So you don't end up with a product and no one to sell it to."
Other presentations include "Managing the Woodlot for Profit;" "Leasing Farmland for Oil and Gas Production;" "How You Can Profit from Social Media;" "Maple Production;" "Resources Available for Small or Beginning Farmers;" "Starting a Fruit Orchard;" and "Liability and Other Legal Issues for Small Farms."
The conference is an outgrowth of the Ohio New and Small Farm College, an eight-week program created by OSU Extension that offers an introduction to the business of small farming for those who are new to the farming industry. The program offers information on budgeting, business planning and how to develop a farm structure, among other issues.
The conference is co-sponsored by OSU Extension's Small Farm Program; Farm Credit Services of Mid-America; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's offices of the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Agriculture Statistic Service and Rural Development.
The conference starts at 8:30 a.m. and runs until 4:15 p.m. Registration is $50 and is due by March 22. For more information or to register, go to http://clinton.osu.edu/topics/agriculture-and-natural-resources/forms/2012%20Conference%20Massillion.pdf