Apr 7, 2007Shipping by UPS Can Solve Distribution Problems
Regarding your question this month, I believe direct marketing has the widest application for farmers to increase value of their crop. Here in New Hampshire, farmers’ markets are booming (29 in 2001, 54 in 2005), which has encouraged the growth of small farms. Larger farms are disappearing, being replaced by these new farms, which are smaller and more diverse but lack distribution networks.
The difficulties of getting smaller crops to mainstream distributors, as well as lower prices paid by these distributors, preclude this option for many growers. A CSA is an option for growers near cities, but many of our farms are located in remote areas.
I am vice president of the New Hampshire Farmers’ Market Association (www.nhfma.org) and president of the New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection (www.nhfarmtorestaurant.com), both of which are standing committees within New Hampshire Made (www.nhmade.com), the “branding” organization of New Hampshire products. The problem of distribution has plagued attempts to sell to restaurants as well as stores, and for a while we continued to try to develop a model using the established commercial distribution systems without success.
Recently, we looked at what works now and realized we have a working system in place that reaches every city and village in New Hampshire and is suitable for many products. We are now talking with UPS about partnering with the Farm to Restaurant Connection. UPS has overnight delivery within all of New England, permitting economic delivery of small crops and related products. A baker in Amherst, N.H., shelved her truck delivery and now ships exclusively by UPS. For example, she shipped 32 loaves of bread to a restaurant in Bath, Maine, for $17. This permits her to widen her market well beyond the range of her delivery truck and to lower her costs as well.
We have found that few growers have considered shipping fresh crops by UPS or FedEx and are now seriously looking into which ag products can be shipped this way. These highly efficient systems are in place, and it just makes sense to use them.
Our Farmers’ Market Association is having marketing and distribution sessions at our upcoming annual meeting, and a representative of UPS will be there to discuss packaging and shipping strategies, which we hope to share with growers throughout the state. We hope to encourage connection between growers and restaurants using this model and envision farm Web sites that would permit direct sales.
We foresee an evolving mix of distribution depending on size of farms and products, but the UPS model appears to be ideal for isolated growers with appropriate product. The ability to sell at retail prices will certainly enhance the viability of our new and diverse farms.
Those unfamiliar with the North American Farmers’ Direct Marketing Association (www.nafdma.com) should make use of this tremendous resource. Yearly conventions are held, bringing farmers from North America and from Great Britain and Europe together to discuss innovative strategies for direct marketing, which they view as vital to the viability of American farms.