Ellerman: This is a good time to get into direct marketing

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TOLEDO – The potential for direct marketing opportunities is huge for Ohio’s farmers, according to John Ellerman, OSU’s new direct marketing specialist.

Based at the OSU Centers at Piketon, Ellerman will be the contact for anyone looking to open or improve a market.

“My primary objectives for this position are to develop programs based on needs as well as helping coordinate linkages between as many of the players involved with direct marketing as possible,” said Ellerman.

His knowledge of direct marketing is extensive, including 23 years in positions with USDA and land-grant universities. He is credited with creating a direct marketing system in Botswana and has also worked in the Ukraine forming a private farmers’ association.

Marketing trends.

At the Ohio Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Congress and Roadside Marketing Conference in Toledo, Feb. 7-9, Ellerman distributed a questionnaire asking farmers about direct marketing. He said the biggest concern for the farmers he talked to during conference was the trends of direct marketing.

“A lot of people are interested in the next trend,” said Ellerman. “We can do research on that to find out what the public is looking for at their local farmers’ markets.”

Ellerman says a growing trend is going to be e-commerce and you-pick operations. He also says trends usually start on the coasts and work their way inward, which is a benefit for Ohio farmers because they can prepare.

Don’t get excited.

He also says many farmers are worried about the Retail Food Establishment Licensing and Inspection law. His advice for farmers is not to worry.

“I’ve just been telling them to relax and let it all unfold before they get too excited,” said Ellerman. “They should work with their local health officials, but my instinct says it’s not going change a whole lot.”

He said farmers should focus on value-added products and labeling. He says consumers are concerned about what they are putting into their bodies and farmers could eliminate many of their headaches by labeling their products.

He is concentrating on developing new and better markets. In the past, markets were driven by the producer, but Ellerman says the consumers are in the driver’s seat today.

Good problem.

“Consumers are pulling for more markets. They want that ‘farm’ experience, and with the state becoming more and more urban, there is going to be a growing need for that,” said Ellerman. “Right now the supply is not meeting the demand. It is a good problem for farmers to have.”

Entertainment farming is going to explode, he said. He says simply having a roadside stand isn’t going to cut it much longer, especially if the market down the road has a corn maze.

He suggests farmers take a bigger role in governing farmers’ markets. He says they should be more involved in the planning, organizing and management of farmers’ markets.

“So many of the farmers’ markets are set up and run by the chamber or city council, but I think it’s important for farmers to lay down the institutional foundation,” said Ellerman. “Farmers need to take control of their destiny.”

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