Expansion of Community Supported Agriculture farms provide dealerships with expanded opportunities for growth alongside these new local businesses.

Industry reports show that many production farms are getting larger and the major equipment manufacturers are keeping pace with bigger, more muscular equipment. But another farm segment also is on the rise, the rural lifestyle market, and in particular Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

The USDA's most recent Census of Agriculture shows there are 12,500 CSAs nationwide and growing, mainly in the Northeast, Upper Midwest and along the Pacific Coast. The way it works is, consumers "buy" into the farm each year and receive a box of goods, usually produce, but sometimes eggs and other products, each week during the season.

CSA consumers are investing in the businesses of these small farmers not to make money, but because they believe in what these farms are doing. Their participation makes them feel like part of the community between other buyers and the farmer and, more often than not, they prefer to buy local and organic produce. CSA consumers tend to be well-read, well-researched and passionate about their choices in food and lifestyle.

Although traditional CSA farms tend to be small, frequently organic farms operated by families or individuals in rural settings, they are increasingly popping up on small acreages in suburbs or just outside suburban areas. Some CSAs are being started by former city dwellers who like the romance and the politics of a CSA, are attracted to the rural lifestyle and want to escape the city life. For them in particular, the expertise of a local equipment dealer will go a long way to help them establish and ensure the success of their business.

Robert Karp, executive director of the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Assn., says on his association's website that CSAs are the next logical step in the development of the local food movement. He says he foresees younger CSA members being able to take over as founding CSA farmers retire.

"The potential impact of these new associations is significant," he says. And as a supplier to the CSA producer, that's where your dealership comes in.

Most CSA producers are not production farmers and they're working smaller acreages on leaner budgets. Many of them are new to the rural lifestyle. They need advice on equipment, both new and used, on attachments, on safety and even, in some cases, on how to reach new customers in the local and surrounding areas. Your local and industry expertise puts you in a great position to help them do all of that.

First, understand your audience. There are several sites that will help you:

Second, help CSAs get the word out. Nothing builds loyalty like helping customers grow their business. Does your town have a farmer's market? Is your parking lot a prime location to host one on an evening or a Saturday? Cosponsoring a farmer's market not only brings in customers for your CSAs, but it attracts additional business for your dealership and generates community goodwill, too.

Remember, marketing does matter. Whenever you can repurpose something so you get extra mileage from it, you've just doubled your investment.

Speaking to your local CSA may require a different approach from working with your local 5,000-acre farmer or even your large property owner fresh from the city. But that doesn't change the simple fact that you potentially have new customers and the skills to win them over. Helping your local CSA grow their business may very well grow yours, as well.


About the author: Todd Foltz is a public relations senior account executive for Osborn & Barr, an agriculture-focused PR and advertising agency. He is part of its Equipment Practice Group, which represents some of agriculture's largest machinery and tire companies.


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