Your farm's brand can affect everything from input costs to acquiring farmland or employees.
Creating your farm’s brand is an important business decision that can impact everything from your desirability as an employer to one factor in what you pay for inputs and whether you are top of the list of potential renters of farmland. "Your brand is reputational capital," says Brett Oelke, agricultural business manager educator for the University of Minnesota and owner of Innovus Agra LLC. The question for producers, he says, is whether they are going to manage their farm brand or let it occur on its own.
"Everything and everybody is a brand," Oelke says. He spoke at Tomorrow’s Top Producer in Chicago on Jan. 28. "Brand marketing is part of an overall business plan." Growth oriented producers have a stake in the image they choose to present to their customers, both internal and external ones. Internal customers include employees, business partners and family members, while external customers include landlords, supplies, seed customers, grain buyers, other farmers you custom farm for. At the same time, for growth oriented producers, some from a position of envy and jealousy may be critical of what you have accomplished. "You can’t combat those but you can tell your side of the story," Oelke says.
One important reason to spend time developing a positive brand is that "businesses talk to other businesses about customers," he says, and it’s in your best interest to be highly regarded by suppliers. Taking time to create the right image can get you the lowest price on inputs. Producers need to understand that suppliers want to keep their transaction costs low, so they don’t want 40 phone calls to talk about price.
While loyalty to suppliers is important, sometimes it makes sense to deal with more than one, such as with bankers in case one decides to pull back from making ag loans. Oelke also says that in creating a positive brand, don’t neglect the importance of being organized and with a plan so that when, for example, fertilizer applicators arrive at your field, they can be as efficient as possible. With buyers of your commodities, "you want to be the go-to person, or at least a strong No. 2," Oelke says. For example, one producer was able and willing to deliver 15,000 bushels of corn to an ethanol plan in January when it was minus 15 and a blizzard. "Basis had been 25 to 35 cents under the board but he got 15 over." Differentiate yourself from the competition, he says.
It’s also important to promote a brand imagine that you are valued and trusted to nonfarm siblings. "They need some of your time and understanding," Oelke says. The people we need the most we sometimes neglect the most," he says. "Many farmers do a poor job of sharing information with people who can make their lives miserable later."
Branding yourself with landlords and prospective landlords is crucially important, he says, because money, while important to them, is not always at the top of the list. For example, create the image—though actions you communicate—that you are a good steward, doing a good job taking care of their resource. Equally important is trust, he says. "If you want to find out how important trust is, start talking to landlords about flex land leases. That takes a great deal of trust on their part." Communication is crucially important with landlords, yet many landlords only hear from tenants one of two times a year, he says. Landlords, however, say they would like to hear from tenants four to 10 times a year. For some, it may require no more than sending a text saying you’re ready to go to their field next in the spring, while for older landlords, in person meetings may be required. "It’s called public relations," he says. Oelke notes that he is "a big believer in farm newsletters" to keep landlords informed.
Thank you to the 2014 Tomorrow’s Top Producer sponsors:
Bayer CropScience, Case IH, John Deere, Koch Agronomic Services, SFP