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Southeast growers facing marketing challenges

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a hundred times. U.S. farmers are the most efficient, and the best in the world. “You grow the food and fiber that feeds the world.”

With the challenges you are facing today, a statement like that may well fund a question like this one, “If we're the best, then why are we facing such challenges?”

We could recount the situation of tobacco. Once, U.S. growers were the judge and the jury of all things tobacco in the world. Then, other countries began to grow tobacco, first slowly, then with a vengeance. Now, the U.S. share of the flue-cured tobacco market is less than 10 percent.

The U.S. tobacco crop is still the standard, but for a number of years the only thing standard about it was its decline in acreage. That should change over the next few years as the world market adjusts.

Never a truer statement has been made than this one: “U.S. growers, whatever their commodity, know how to grow the best.”

Equally, as true, however, is this statement: “By and large, U.S. growers are lacking in their knowledge and ability to market what they grow.”

It's understandable.

Think about what has happened in the private sector. There was a time when a job was a guaranteed pension for the worker. He put in his time and was rewarded for the hard work with a pension at the end of his career. Now, that's rare. Instead, we are required to “invest” in our future, placing our money in vehicles such as a 401K. It requires more study and research.

The word “invest” is a good one to use. I hadn't heard it applied to everyday things until about five years ago, but it has that connotation. The information you read, the small things you buy and even the decisions you make are “investments.” They likely pay dividends somewhere along the line.

I first heard Wade Hubers speak early last year. I visited him before 2004 was out on his eastern North Carolina farm. He's a proponent on marketing. He reads voraciously on the subject and had more than half of his crop for 2005 sold in November. He encourages farmers to do the same.

V. Mac Baldwin is another farmer who's marketing. A retired engineer, he began growing Charolais beef while he was still an engineer. Now that he's retired, he's marketing directly to the consumer, bypassing the traditional middleman and pocketing more money while developing a customer base.

There are different ways to market. The important thing is that it is done. It will likely no longer be enough just to grow the crop without a thought of where it's going to be sold.

And that brings us to another point. You'll be seeing more opportunities to learn about marketing in the coming months. Extension meetings will feature marketing topics. Take advantage of these meetings.

And another thing: Make sure your ag leadership knows of the importance of marketing to your operation. Ask for their help in providing you with the opportunities needed to make a go of it in this challenging.

You already grow the “best crops in the world.” Become the best marketer in the world.

“We know how to grow with the best,” one farmer told me recently. “What we need is more information on how to market.”

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