By Molly Hamilton, Crop Science Extension Assistant, NCSU
There are a number of ways to market organic grain and forage crops. Selling grain to organic grain buyers directly, or through a broker—with or without contracts—is the main way of marketing organic grains. It may also be the easiest, but it is not the only way. It is also possible to sell organic grains on a smaller scale than most buyers want to deal with, and to get even more added value from the crop.
Direct marketing to the end user is one way of selling an organic grain crop. This may work best for feed grade grains. There are a number of producers in the state that are very interested in producing organic livestock. To be able to certify livestock as organic, the animals must be fed organic feed, from organically grown crops. A relationship with one or several livestock producers would give the grain/forage farmer and the livestock producer an advantage in prices. The livestock producer can get a better price for the organic grain for feed and the grain producer can get a price for the crop without the “middle man” cost. The situation can work for livestock producers who are able to store and mix their own feed. Organic grain farmers may have to store grain for longer periods of time and deliver the grain multiple times when in this situation. Or, the grain farmer can grind and mix feed, him/herself, to be delivered to, or picked up by, livestock producer(s) as they need it. Organic forage crops can also be sold in this way—delivered to or picked up by the livestock or dairy producer. Grain farmers can find livestock producers that may need organic feed through organic certification agencies or organizations such as Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA), or the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC).
Adding value to the initial product (grain crop) through some type of processing is another way to market organic grains. Processing can be as simple as cleaning and bagging the grain or as complex as milling the grain and producing baked goods from the milled grain. You may need additional equipment to do any on-farm processing, certification for the process and equipment and, possibly, liability insurance. However, it may be very worthwhile to investigate the options. One organic grain farmer in North Carolina has a small (corn) grain mill that he uses to process his own corn into meal and grits (and/or cracked corn for chicken feed). He then sells these value-added products, packaged, to retailers or direct markets them himself.
Cooperative marketing may work for organic grain producers who do not have the labor, time or equipment to deal with quality and delivery specifications or cleaning and storage operations. These marketing costs can reduce the price premiums of organic grains, especially for smaller producers. Transportation, storage and cleaning costs can possibly be reduced by cooperative or collaborative marketing. Finding and working with other organic grain producers, or others interested in producing organic grains, on marketing may be a way to sell smaller quantities of organic grains or alternative grain crops.