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How to get started in specialty crops

Tom McKinney
CULTIVATE CONTACTS: Tom McKinney raises seed for various companies and currently grows Plenish soybeans through Pioneer. Looking for opportunities and maintaining contacts pays, he notes.
Profit Planners: Take the first steps toward earning premiums.

A new year is approaching, but it looks like the same old chapter and verse: high input costs and low crop prices. We’ve looked at several opportunities to raise crops for a premium over regular commodity prices, but nothing has worked. Somebody else gets the contract, or the company has all the production they need. What’s the best way to get our foot in the door to start growing specialty crops and get a premium with corn or soybeans?

The Profit Panel participants are: David Erickson, farmer, Altona, Ill.; Mark Evans, Purdue University Extension educator, Greencastle, Ind.; Steve Myers, farm manager, Busey Ag Resources, LeRoy, Ill.; and Chris Parker, cattle, forage and timber producer, Morgantown, Ind.

Erickson: Work with your input suppliers to see what contacts they might have for premiums and ways to reduce your high input costs. Keep your name on the list with buyers, even when their contract limits are met. Develop a resume on your farm business to sell it to buyers as a better option for contracting acres. Identify the strengths your business has that separate you from the others. Be willing to do the extra little things that will make you a preferred contractor.

Evans: There seems to be two key responses to your questions. First, don’t give up! If you’re not looking, you’re not going to find it! Marketing takes work, and one must be relentless while staying positive and professional. Secondly, you’re severely limiting yourself by strictly staying with corn and soybean crops to seek premium opportunities. Consider a self-examination of your operation to determine what is called a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strength, weakness, opportunity and threat. Also, are you attending programs and other events to stay abreast of opportunities and to build key relationships? You must stay proactive and engaged!

Myers: There are a couple ways to go about it. Spread your search out to a geographically wider footprint in miles for opportunities. Be willing to take a lesser-quality contract, at least initially. Perhaps you can go to an end user and provide low-cost trucking or some other type of incentive to get your operation to stand out from a crowded field. Think outside the box in terms of what you can offer that may entice someone to consider working with you. Stay consistent on calling on those people who show interest early and often.

Parker: Planning and a good network of contacts come to mind in this regard of finding contracts and market premiums for specialty crops. Now is the time to be planning for the 2020 crop, not the 2019 crop. Also, are there any seminars related to specialty crops that you can attend somewhere in Indiana or even in the Midwest?

Have you contacted Purdue Extension, any of your local grain markets or a farmer already participating in these specialty areas concerning these specialty markets? Lots of farmers are interested in getting premiums on crops, so there is a lot of competition. You’ll need to be diligent and persistent in your pursuit of this market share. A number of these contracts are based on proximity to the market delivery site. If your farm operation isn’t located relatively close by the delivery point, your task could be more difficult.

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