This article on agricultural and agribusiness chamber members is part of the Meeting the Needs Series which is designed to help chamber professionals meet the individual needs of certain market segments. See the footer of this article for a list of posts in this series.
Whether you have family-owned farms or ranches in your community, artisanal operations, or even nationally-owned or large-scale farming operations , these agricultural businesses or agribusinesses are not to be overlooked. Farmers, ranchers, and agriculturalists are some of the most community-oriented people you’ll run into. They have a history with your town and roots that keep them connected (bad pun).
But they may not see the immediate value in a chamber membership. Here are some suggestions on how you can meet the needs of the agribusiness interests in your area by helping them in ways they need the most assistance.
Since there’s a big difference in agricultural operations in size and focus, we’ve broken down our suggestions into three categories: traditional farms/ranches/livestock (often established family operations), artisanal farms, and large-scale or corporate agribusinesses.
Chamber Benefits That Appeal to Traditional Agriculture and Family Farms
For clarity’s sake, in this article “traditional” farming, ranching, and livestock operations refer to established (often family-run) agricultural operations. The land or industry may have been operated for generations on the same plot of land. They are invested in your community but they still have many needs.
One of the most pressing needs this group has is that they are in competition with large-scale farm or livestock operations. These corporate agricultural operations have much larger marketing budgets, are usually diversified and vertically integrated and may have production sourced from around the country, which means they have more resources for taking advantage of good markets and also weathering (pun intended) challenges.
Your traditional agribusinesses may need ways to differentiate themselves in the market. They may also need your help and guidance in creating broader appeal for their farm or ranch. For instance, some farms and ranches open up their operations for school group tours or fall corn mazes.
Chamber Benefits That Appeal to the Traditional or Family Agribusiness
When approaching these business people you may be able to interest them in the following chamber benefits:
Agriculturalists are (usually) independent business people and often the entire family works on the farm. That means they do not have access to healthcare and dental the way a person who works for a company might. If your chamber offers life insurance discounts or health insurance at discounted rates, these hard-working people may be eager to hear about it.
Some chambers run their local farmer’s market or may have an “in” with the people that do. Giving your food and fiber producers another outlet to sell some of their products can be a reason to join, especially if you have discounted stalls. This may also offer an opportunity for them to sell something alongside their produce like bread, cakes, or eggs.
Most people like discounts. If you have a strong member-to-member discount program, you’ll want to share it. Don’t just talk to the program, be specific about who’s in it and what the discounts are.
Small agricultural operations often don’t have the time to lobby for their best interests but legislation deeply affects what they’re doing. Certain aspects of the agricultural business in the U.S. have very powerful lobbying but your small farms and ranches are still small businesses operating in your locality. Explaining how the chamber’s resources could help them in this arena could lift a significant burden from them if they believed you had their back.
Chamber Benefits That Appeal to Artisinal Agricultural Operations
A growing trend in agriculture these days is artisanal production. This includes small-scale farms, dairies and wineries, often with specialties. Some of them are organic or sell unique livestock. For them, it’s all about word-of-mouth marketing.
In addition to the family farm’s benefits above, they may also appreciate:
What small business couldn’t use an infusion of cash? Plus, it can make a fun, unusual outing for members.
Social Media Help
Since word of mouth is essential to these small-scale agricultural operations, they may appreciate getting the training they need close to home and for free (or very little cost).
Meeting Local Restaurateurs
If you’re in a position to introduce them to people in the community who are interested in buying from them for their restaurants, offering local farm-to-table tours, or working with them to set up special events at their establishment, membership could be very lucrative for them. Before approaching the producers you could do your research about whether any chefs are looking to add more local color to their menus.
Chamber Benefits That Appeal to Large-scale Agribusiness Operations
Large-scale agricultural operations are often headquartered out of places outside of your area and they have very different needs than your family farms and small-scale operations. While some of the needs may seem the same, the details behind them are likely to be different.
These might include:
These large-scale organizations often struggle with reputation when they enter a community. Because of high levels of production, they come under fire when it comes to perceived or anticipated problems like waste run-off, smells, treatment of animals, and other PR issues.
They may be looking for a way to turn around a negative reputation. This may involve naming sponsorship of a popular local event or some other community endeavor.
While a large-scale agricultural operation may need state or local legislative assistance at times, you should figure out your position on something like this before you promise it to them. As with any legislative support, you don’t want to promise it only to have to back off if there is pressure from the community. While agricultural operations are highly regulated, especially in the western U.S., there are always potential concerns when a “big corporate agribusiness” is involved.
Another legislative issue that would affect all agribusinesses regardless of size is legislation surrounding immigration and workers. Agriculture is always concerned about the cost of labor and where they’re able to find it. If you can provide any assistance with labor, you could have a big impact on their view of membership.
Additional Points to Help Agriculture
The chamber is in a unique position to help reconnect the farming and ranching communities with the other side of the business community. Over the past several decades, people have lost touch with where their food comes from. There is a growing desire led by chefs, whole food supporters, urban gardeners, farm market hosts, and others to reacquaint people with food production. This had led to the farm-to-table movement.
But it shouldn’t stop there. As community leaders with strong agricultural ties, you can help renew local commitments to the farmers and ranchers. Producers can also use assistance from manufacturing to help them overcome the struggles of agribusiness. Guidance from these folks can really help the small or artisan farmers and ranchers struggling to establish themselves in an emerging market.
Plus, agricultural business of any size benefit from an exchange with other businesses. At first glance, new solutions and efficiencies may be derived from such connections. There are also many business-related needs that they have including the financial and legal parts of acquiring land or funding a growing business.
Many operations are also hi-tech now with WiFi and smartphone apps that regulate temps in the barn or monitor soil moisture. So don’t discount their interest in technology or any of your sessions that talk about tech. However, their schedule may make it difficult to attend your events. You may be more successful making podcasts out of them or recording them and placing them in a library so that they can watch them on their own time.
How to Pitch Agribusinesses
Agriculture requires a targeted approach. The industry wants to know you have their best interests at heart. You can show them this and build “know, like, and trust” in the following ways:
- As always, make sure your testimonials or member reviews are available, especially if you already have a few farmers, ranchers or producers on hand.
- Show them events of interest. Get them involved in a community farm-to-fork festival. Take a look at this event called Sample the Sierra from the Tahoe Chamber. It’s billed as a “…cooperative effort to increase awareness of the region’s bounty, heritage, culture and activities through a farm-to-fork event featuring tastings from the Sierra Nevada’s best chefs and restaurants — all created with local produce, and paired with tastings from local wineries and breweries. A regional marketplace, original art, and handmade crafts show and live entertainment” are enjoyed by all.
- Consider catching their eye by creating a Farm City Week celebration. This designation celebrates the partnership between rural and urban areas. It’s generally held about two weeks before Thanksgiving.
- Approach them to be part of the farmers market. If you are involved in the farmers market, approach your farmers with a potential revenue idea. Explain what it would cost and cite success stories. Bringing them a revenue stream ahead of a pitch may cultivate some interest.
- Get them invested in the chamber’s direction. Many chambers create agribusiness or agricultural committees to ensure the voice of agriculture is heard. If this is a market you intend to approach, you may want to consider creating a group like the El Centro Chamber of Commerce did with its Agribusiness Committee.
Agriculture is a valuable part of many communities but they have very distinct needs. They may not realize the benefits of membership without you specifically talking to their needs. Do your research ahead of approaching them. There are all sorts of agricultural entities. Match your pitch to the type of group you’re speaking to by addressing their needs.
Wondering about how to meet the needs of other specific demographics? Read the previous articles in our Meeting the Needs Series.