Sometimes it can take a while to turn a good idea into a successful venture. At USDA, we understand the value of research, and by providing resources to get things started at the local level, we often see amazing results that have positive impact for farmers, agribusinesses and consumers across the country.
The Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP), administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, is one of the many ways that USDA makes an investment in the future of agriculture. Funding practical research projects that focus on innovation and collaboration, FSMIP’s diverse projects reflect the unique marketing challenges and opportunities faced by different agribusiness sectors, local communities and regions. Sometimes, by solving a specific problem within their state or local area, grant recipients end up addressing issues that have national or industry-wide impact.
With the support of FSMIP funds in 2006 and 2009, the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB), in partnership with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, was able to dramatically expand its Farm to Family program. Among several positive outcomes was a pilot project to help food banks access nutrient-dense row crops.
Crops like broccoli, cauliflower, and celery are often sorted and separated right in the harvest field. Products that do not meet supermarket grade are usually left in the field and tilled under. CAFB worked with two major growers to harvest cull products, providing a steady source of high nutrient vegetables to food banks. Since the project’s inception, people in need have enjoyed over 8 million pounds of these crops, and food banks now have a regular, permanent supply of nutrient-dense row crops. This project provides a model for other states seeking to provide a new market for produce growers while meeting a vital food need.
With 2007 FSMIP funding, the Ohio Direct Marketing Team led by Ohio State University used surveys and case studies to evaluate the current marketing strategies and practices of Ohio food producers. The goal was to determine if and how a web-based marketing system called MarketMaker improved the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. MarketMaker is currently one of the most extensive collections of searchable food industry related data in the country and contains over 400,000 profiles of farmers and other food related enterprises in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
This investment continues to benefit Ohio food producers in numerous ways. The FSMIP study was the first step in developing standardized protocols to evaluate the contribution of marketing tools on reducing transaction costs and leveling the playing field for local food enterprises on a national level. As a result, the Ohio Direct Marketing Team attracted additional funding to develop training modules such as MarketReady to prepare producers to enter new markets. They also held “Meet the Buyers” forums to bring buyers and sellers together for targeted sales meetings, and developed maps, apps & mobile media marketing tools to help consumers find producers.
In 2010, the number of registered producers and users of Ohio MarketMaker increased significantly. There were more than 5,000 visitors and 679 registered producers by the end of the year. In 2011, Ohio was one of two states recognized with the first National Food MarketMaker Innovation Awards, sponsored by Farm Credit. Building on strong food industry partnerships, the “Get Connected” campaign engaged new organizations through customized promotional and educational materials. As a result, the number of registered MarketMaker users nearly doubled from 2010 to 2011. The creation of “Get Connected” artwork and marketing resources will benefit the entire national MarketMaker network of states.
There are many other tales of innovative and collaborative FSMIP projects, and this year’s projects are no different. More than half of the 22 projects focus on increasing sales of meat products, aquaculture products, and fresh and processed produce in local and regional food systems. Other research topics include forestry, bioenergy and horticulture.
I’m sure that over the next few years—as these great ideas continue to build and have a positive impact on American agriculture—we’ll have even more success stories to share.
You can view a full list of this year’s awards online.