Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Environmentally and economically sustainable

Picture from PapekPhotography - Click it for large version.

Hi readers! Tough times around here but I'll make an effort and drop the usual weekly post.
As you could gather from the last post, the farm is a gorgeous place with lots of potential. Will we make it? Fuck knows! but we'll definitely try.
As many of you might know, there is not much money in conventional farming nowadays for farms of this size. Unless you have huge capitals, you go super intensive and you have at your disposal hundreds of acres, it's better you forget about conventional agriculture, whatever you want to produce, let it be grains, milk, meat or veggies, you won't get rich.
Therefore, for such small farms, with limited capitals and volumes, you necessarily need to find other ways.
The only hope for such enterprises is to concentrate on a produce that has some sort of added value, something the consumer is willing to pay extra for. Needless to say there is a wide array of possible ways to create added value in a product. A classic example is the organic certification, or any sort of labelling, at least it was years ago, now that it has become a worldwide business it has become more expensive for small farmers and the added value has decreased a lot.
Other ways involve targeting local typical productions, niche markets, artisanal produce, rustic local breeds, honey from non-sugar-fed bees and so on. Here the added value is due to the fact that you are offering a product for which it is required a rare set of skills, or that is linked to a specific trerritory, or it is simply produced in a more sustainable way and therefore is less abundant. Hence the higher price.
Examples in this area are possibly infinite.
Another way to get even more money from small farms like this is to adopt what we call in Italy a "Filiera Corta" (short processing chain).
Cutting a long story short, if you are rearing fibre producing animals such as merino sheep, you won't be selling row fibre but instead jumpers, hats, gloves and scarves. This way your product won't go around the market increasing in price at every step of the textile and retail industry, you'll be very competitive in terms of prices you can offer to the consumer (because you bypass several steps of the processing chain) and you have complete control over the quality of the final product. This allows you to add even more extra value through the ways we explored earlier, by customising your products.
There are also downsides in such an approach. You have to work a lot more to get to your final product and therefore acquire several specific skills and extra facilities to transform and process your raw matter into your final product.
If in the case of wool it is easy to imagine that such facilities would be quite expensive and that the knowledge required would be vast, for raw matters such as milk and meat, veggies and other product of the land the task at hand is definitely not impossible.
In conclusion, instead of selling milk you sell cheese, instead of meat you sell salami and prosciutto, smoked and cured meats, instead of fresh vegetables you sell conserved Mediterranean style grilled aubergines and pickled onions, instead of soy beans you sell tofu, instead of wheat you sell bread and cookies and why not, instead of barley you can specialise in malts and drink lots and lots of beer :)
The last thing you need to keep in mind for small size farms, especially if there are several people trying to live off the land, is that diversification is a MUST.
Diversifying production is a must because none of your possible productions is big enough to allow you to overcome difficult moments in the trade.
So, keep all this in mind and wait for the next post :) we have quite a precise plan but, in the meantime, suggestions are welcome!


  1. Uhm...
    I believe that the Filiera Corta thing suffer for another problem you didn't mention in your post.
    In your sheep-wool example, if you sell the fibre you will probably have to deal one or two customers, which is skilled enough to appreciate the good quality of your product.
    If instead you sell hats, gloves, scarfs and stuffs you sell hundreds of pieces a year, and possibly hundreds of customers, final users of those products (hence the "corta" adjective of the expression). So you also will need a marketing machine, and going through licenses and certifications also for the final products.
    What i am saying is that, without considering the possible problems you have in transforming the raw materials, selling cheese is much more difficult than selling milk.
    Being that cheese needs some art to produce, it's also true that good quality cheese is more valuable than good quality milk.

    So, anyway, your adventure is getting more and more interesting day by day!

  2. You are making several good points Dario, and as I wrote there are pro and cons. But what happens when your one or two customers don't buy your milk anymore? you are fucked, and milk goes bad in a few hours. Also they are too strong and determine the price for you.
    I don't agree that the final customer must be necessarily the consumer, there are lots of local shops that can buy in small bulks and farmers' markets. Sure you'll need to do some marketing but I believe that it's largely paid for by the added value (5 liters milk = 3.5 euro = 1Kg artisanal cheese = 20-30 euro).
    Regarding certifications and labelling, it is clear you are from Italy and have been subjected to the burocratic nightmare for years :) I'm not saying you don't need them but procedures in "normal" countries are a lot easier and you'd need to go through with them even if you were selling raw matter...

  3. Yes, moreover i believe that making cheese is a much more interesting activity than making milk: if you are a good cheese maker you make good cheese, if you are a bad one, you make shit.

    On the opposite to make good milk you just need good cows (sheeps/goats), and they do all the work for you :-)


Comments welcome from almost everyone :)