7 tips to develop a strong marketing plan for your farm

One of the keys to success for today’s agricultural producers is a strong marketing plan which includes knowing break-even costs, having a solid action plan and keeping emotions out of it, according to a tip sheet released by the American Bankers Association at the recent ABA National Agricultural Bankers conference in Omaha, Nebraska. The tip sheet—developed by members of the ABA Agricultural and Rural Bankers Committee—includes seven tips to help farmers and ranchers manage their risk.

“A well-developed marketing plan can take some of the price risk off the table, which is especially important in today’s ag economy,” said Ed Elfmann, senior vice president, agricultural and rural policy at ABA. “It’s also a useful tool to help farmers and ranchers communicate with their banker.”

For producers who haven’t developed a marketing plan or need to take a fresh look at the one they have, ABA’s Agricultural and Rural Bankers Committee recommends starting with these tips:

Know your break-even costs. Factor in all of your costs including input, debt service and family living expenses. To get a better idea of what your yield might be, take your three-year, five-year or Olympic average (eliminate the high and low of the last five years and average the rest). You can also find ballpark figures from university agricultural extension services or an advisory firm. Use an excel spreadsheet to add up and track your costs.

When there’s an opportunity to profit, act on it. Once you understand your production costs, you’ll have a better idea of when you can sell for a profit. You’re not always going to hit the high, but selling at a profit—even a small one—takes some of the risk off the table. One of the biggest mistakes can be inaction because you think prices are going to go up or you’re going to miss a rally.

Set a goal and stick to it. You could set a date to have all of your marketing completed, plan to market 10 percent each month, or set a goal to market one, two or even three years out. Creating a plan will help you stay on track. With so much volatility in agriculture, no one can be totally sure what’s going to happen, but having an organized plan can help.

Take the emotions out of it. Finding the right person or company to work with can go a long way to remove your emotions from the mix. Talk to your banker for recommendations and understand your options. Whether it’s a marketing advisory firm, programs offered by your local co-ops and elevators, or your in-house financial manager—find someone you trust and are comfortable with.

Keep things simple. You don’t have to do a lot of fancy footwork to make a profit. You may not always hit a homerun but sticking to your marketing plan can help you stay in business. When you do make a decision, accept it and move on. Don’t beat yourself up afterward if the market moves one way or another.

Avoid spot markets. Don’t wait until you need to make a loan payment or you need cash. That will leave you vulnerable to what the market can give you at that time. Keep track of your local basis and understand the benefits of forward pricing.

Understand the tools available. Hedge-to-arrive contracts, forward pricing, marketing loans to cover hedging expenses, hedging lines of credit, the role of crop insurance—it’s complicated, but your banker is there to help you make sense of the options. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find the best solution for you and your operation.

Visit www.aba.com/Tools/Function/Ag/Documents/7AgMktgTips.pdf to download the tip sheet.

The American Bankers Association is the voice of the nation’s $17 trillion banking industry, which is composed of small, regional and large banks that together employ more than 2 million people, safeguard $13 trillion in deposits and extend nearly $10 trillion in loans. Learn more at aba.com.