When looking at thriving farm businesses, we can usually identify several reasons for their success. They tend to have unique value propositions, for example, along with consistently top-quality products, smart operations, and strong values that resonate with customers.
But successful farm businesses share another critical quality: They pay close attention to their numbers. They are resourceful with funds and manage their money well.
This is definitely the case for Rustic Road Farm, featured in the latest Edible-Alpha® podcast. Founder Marc Bernard shares how he and husband Luis have built an impressive diversified agricultural business, complete with a large CSA, a bustling farm market, agritourism, and a growing value-added brand. However, if they hadn’t had a solid grip on their financials, Rustic Road Farm likely wouldn’t have achieved all of this.
The money stuff can be tricky, especially for farmers just starting out. But with a little guidance, they absolutely can launch and scale successful ag businesses. Taking a page from Rustic Road Farm’s book, here are five financial tips for building a prosperous farm enterprise.
1. Count everything
No matter how small or low-tech an operation may be, farms should closely track inventory, sales, labor costs, and other performance metrics. “Count everything!” Marc says. “You have to have numbers. Otherwise, how do you know what you’ve sold?”
Recording key metrics gives farmers a wealth of data to inform their marketing, growth, and even financing strategies. Plus, it pays off when preparing income tax returns and applying for loans and grants.
2. Pursue microloans
When just starting out, farmers often have a hard time securing bank loans. That’s why USDA’s Farm Service Agency offers accessible, flexible microloans for beginning, niche and small-scale operators. New farmers should strongly consider pursuing these microloans—as well as hiring a grant writer to help prepare applications.
“Our numbers were so poor in the beginning that we didn’t even bother with a conventional bank,” says Marc. Instead, Rustic Road worked with FSA for several years, helping it grow into a more credit-worthy business.
3. Be careful and creative with funds
Though microloans help, money is still typically tight for small and beginning farmers. And with so many expenses and uncertainties in this business, funds can get gobbled up quick.
“You’ve got to be careful with your money,” Marc says. “We got a $35,000 microloan, and when you have to be creative, it is amazing how far $35,000 can go. For example, we didn’t buy a brand-new tractor; we bought one used.” Marc suggests thinking critically about each potential purchase and not taking profits until the entire loan is paid off.
4. Invest in a strong team
When deciding where to allocate limited funds, Marc believes that talent, dedication and passion are well worth investment. He and Luis have built an amazing team by hiring workers with unique skill sets, empowering key employees to make decisions, and paying their people well. Yes, offering higher-than-average wages will cost money upfront, but it should pay off in dividends long-term.
5. Work with an accountant
Accountants can help farmers manage money, analyze key metrics, and ensure their businesses are primed for growth. Marc and Luis meet with their accountant a few times a year, finding it incredibly helpful for taking a broader view of their business and keeping it on a successful trajectory.
After starting from scratch just over a decade ago, Marc and Luis Bernard have grown Rustic Road Farm on the fringes of suburban Chicago into something really special. Today, they sell organic produce, pastured meats and eggs, and a range of value-added products direct to consumers, and they love hosting the community on-farm. In this podcast, Marc shares their fascinating journey and offers excellent advice for launching and growing a viable ag business.
And now, our roundup of the best food and beverage finance news, events and resources from around the web…
Business Model Insights
- How has the pandemic permanently changed the startup landscape in food? (FoodNavigator-USA)
- While many challenges faced by food and beverage startups early in the pandemic have subsided, other issues remain while new ones have emerged, potentially complicating the path to market.
- Why Exponential Growth Works Better than Blitzscaling for New Consumer Brands (The Food Institute)
- 4 important topics natural products businesses should cover in early 2022 (New Hope Network)
- Big Food’s stake in the future: in-house venture-capital funds (Just Food)
- While M&A remains a popular way for big food companies to access new, potentially faster-growing categories, many are now making minority investments in innovative young brands to help them grow.
- Radical persistence (The Intertwine Group)
- Tips for Managing Your Finance Strategy That You Didn’t Learn in School (Forbes)
- What a raft of CPG rebrands portend for marketer priorities in 2022 (Food Dive)
- M&M’s, Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola refreshes remind us that marketers can connect purpose to brand identity—but only if it’s authentic.
- Why focusing on the entire marketing funnel is key for long-term brand growth (Nielsen Insights)
- New private label products outpace brand name offerings during pandemic, study finds (Food Dive)
- Targeting breakfast food for all morning occasions (Food Business News)
- New research reveals that 95% of consumers eat six mornings a week, suggesting brands could boost breakfast product sales by targeting items for each specific morning eating occasion and by noting which generations are most sensitive to price increases.
- Why Consumers are Still Buying in Bulk (The Food Institute)
- Top Trends in Dairy for 2022 (IRI Blog)
Farming and AgTech
- Online tool allows farmers, ranchers to report anticompetitive practices (Successful Farming)
- New tool from USDA and DOJ facilitates anonymous reporting of potentially unfair and anticompetitive practices in the livestock and poultry sectors.
- USDA Investing $1B to Support Climate-Smart Farmers, Ranchers and Forest Landowners (Food Manufacturing)
- Can Farmers Help Each Other Navigate Mental Health Crises? (Civil Eats)
- Jump in venture-finance deals paves way for more food M&A (Just Food)
- The value of venture-financing deals in packaged foods has tripled in two years, a trend set to accelerate as investors seek out entrepreneurial startups striving to tap into changing eating habits.
- Chapul Farms Raises $2.5 Million, Partners with Nexus PMG to Scale Insects as Waste and Climate Solution (Raising Regenerative)
- Purely Elizabeth closes $50m Series B funding round: ‘There’s an opportunity to double distribution’ (FoodNavigator-USA)
- Edible-Alpha® MVP Series Workshop: Sales & Distribution Planning: 2/23
- Edible-Alpha® Immersion Training: Scenario Planning: 2/28–3/10
- Positive Nutrition Interactive Broadcast Series: 3/15–3/31
- Edible-Alpha® MVP Series Workshop: Marketing & Branding Planning: 3/17
- PLMA Global: Online Private Label Trade Show: 3/28–3/31
- FFI April Quarterly Trends Talk: 4/11
- Nutrition Capital Network Spring Investor Meeting: 4/19–4/20 (hybrid event)
- Edible-Alpha® Immersion Training: Scenario Planning: 5/1–5/11
- Edible-Alpha® MVP Series Workshop: Operations & Organization Planning: 5/12
- Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Conference: 2/17–2/19 in Dayton, OH
- American Frozen Food Institute AFFI-CON: 2/19–2/22 in Dallas, TX
- Refrigerated Foods Association 41st Annual Conference and Exhibition: 2/20–2/23 in Amelia Island, FL
- UNFI Natural and Conventional Spring and Summer Show: 2/21–2/23 in Orlando, FL
- MOSES Organic Farming Conference: 2/24–2/26 in La Crosse, WI
- International Restaurant & Foodservice Show of New York: 3/6–3/8 in New York, NY
- Natural Products Expo West: 3/8–3/12 in Anaheim, CA
- Seafood Expo North America/Seafood Processing North America: 3/13–3/15 in Boston, MA
- Soil Health Academy School: Regenerative Farming & Ranching: 3/15–3/17 in Chico, CA
- PACK EXPO East: 3/21–3/23 in Philadelphia, PA
- SIAL America: Inspire Food Business: 3/22–3/24 in Las Vegas, NV
- Midwest Poultry Federation Convention: 3/22–3/24 in Minneapolis, MN
- Global Pet Expo: 3/23–3/25 in Orlando, FL
- SNX 2022: SNAC International Education and Collaboration Forum: 3/27–3/29 in Phoenix, AZ
- American Bakers Association Annual Conference: 3/27–3/30 in Palm Springs, CA
- 10th American Food Sure Conference: 3/29–3/30 in Chicago, IL
- Soil Health Academy School: Cropping Success Through Regenerative Ag: 3/29 –3/31 in Kenansville, NC