Diversification Tips from Farm Entrepreneurs

Any producer considering a business move beyond the rows should note personal strengths and weaknesses from the start, says Anna Brakefield, founder and co-owner of Red Land Cotton, who works alongside her father, Mark. A red-dirt girl from Moulton, Ala., Brakefield is producing heirloom cotton linens from family farm to home and protecting the purity in every link of the production chain. She spoke at the recent Tomorrow’s Top Producers Conference, sponsored by Farm Journal.

“Recognize the areas where you lack proficiency,” Brakefield says. “I bring marketing and advertising expertise, and my father brings farming knowledge. Any farmer wanting to expand needs to take a look beforehand and fill in those blanks.”

The initial push is the hardest part of branching beyond traditional a farming business, adds Chris Noble, part-owner of Noblehurst Farms, a dairy operation in western New York.

“Farmers already know their core business and learned so much from their fathers and grandfathers,” Noble explains. “But once over the learning hump, diversified opportunities are similar to farming businesses, and it can be a natural fit. For anyone considering a farm-related business, I’d advise them to find something they are
passionate about and match opportunity with talent.”

Shape your business around customer connections, advises Jamie Walter, a fifth-generation producer from Dekalb, Ill., growing corn, rye, soybeans, wheat—and whiskey. He is the co-founder and CEO of Whiskey Acres Distilling Co.

“As producers, we need to go direct to consumers and make emotional connections,” Walter says. “In the past, that’s something our agriculture industry hasn’t done particularly well.”

Recognize strengths and stick to those roots.