The agroforestry community has often focused on the establishment, production, and conservation benefits and challenges of agroforestry, but put less emphasis on the rest of the supply chain. A key component of increasing agroforestry adoption is increasing opportunities to connect with markets for tree, shrub, non-timber, and other products grown in agroforestry systems. While some of these crops have well-established markets, identifying, developing, or entering the market may be a challenge for other crops.
To better understand how producers and organizations were accessing markets for agroforestry products, as well as what USDA programs were useful to these producers and organizations, the USDA National Agroforestry Center developed seven case studies, which were recently published in Marketing Agroforestry Products: Lessons from Producers (Lim et al. 2021).
The publication (Figure 1) profiles Shepherd Farms, Delaware Valley Ramps, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Passamaquoddy Maple, Integration Acres, River Hills Harvest, and Hawai’i ‘Ulu Cooperative. Each case study shares lessons learned and information about assistance and resources the organization accessed along the way.
The Hawai’i ‘Ulu Cooperative case study shares a number of lessons learned from their experience. They found that it was important to work together to find ways to reach larger markets. Most farms in Hawai’i are small, including those that grow breadfruit, making it challenging to supply large volumes to restaurants and hotels. Creating a cooperative helped to overcome that barrier. The cooperative also shares resources by aggregating and processing breadfruit at a shared facility (Figure 2) and by sharing uniform harvesting containers. The cooperative also indicated their success came from working together to revitalize a traditional staple; working together has allowed these growers to get breadfruit into public schools and hospitals. These contracts are important to growers. The cooperative used several USDA AMS and Rural Development programs to help achieve their goals.
Five key themes emerged from the case studies:
- There are many routes to finding markets for your product: Producer experiences indicate that there is no fixed template for identifying and entering markets. Some entered mature markets saturated with competition, while others worked hard to create new markets.
- Customer experience matters: Identifying a target market and customers is just a first step in securing an opportunity for sale. For that relationship to develop, producers must pay attention to what customers need, the feedback customers provide, and their experience with the product.
- Diversification builds resilience: Producers may work with one product or a range of products, depending on what their land and agroforestry practices provide. Producers can also diversify by developing several value-added products from one crop to build a more diverse offering for buyers.
- Build strategic partnerships: Often, producers are very focused on what they do best — growing their products. However, marketing a product can require an individual to wear many hats — sales, marketing, and research, to name a few. It is worth looking out for strategic partnerships that can create shared value for producers and their potential partners. Leveraging each other’s strengths through collaboration may lead to new opportunities.
- Seek relevant assistance: Sometimes, barriers to expanding markets can include lack of technical expertise or funding. The producers highlighted in this publication shared some of the assistance they sought, and received, at different stages of growth.
These case studies also identified some key USDA programs used to assist in aggregation, processing, and market access, including the Agricultural Marketing Service’s Local Food Promotion Program, Agricultural Marketing Service’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Programs, Food and Nutrition Service’s Farm to School Grant Program, Rural Development’s Value Added Producer Grant Program, Rural Development’s Rural Business Development Grant Program, and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant programs. The factsheet titled USDA Programs in the Local Food Supply Chain (USDA Agricultural Marketing Service 2021) provides information on additional programs that support regional food economies.
While marketing tree crops and non-timber forest products can be a challenge for producers, there is room for growth and opportunities to expand. Producers are successful when they are strategic in approaching markets and reaching their goals. This may require thinking outside the box, as demonstrated in these producer case studies (Figure 3). It is crucial for producers to assess options and identify assistance available to support their growth.
Lim, M; MacFarland, K; Stein, S (2021) Marketing Agroforestry Products: Lessons from Producers. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington Office Research and Development and U.S Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service, National Agroforestry Center. https://www.fs.usda.gov/nac/assets/documents/morepublications/MarketingAgroforestryProducts-508.pdf Accessed 9 September 2021.
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (2021) USDA Programs in the Local Food Supply Chain. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/FoodSupplyChainFactSheet.pdf Accessed 9 September 2021.