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Farmers learn to pivot quickly

Whether it’s shifting markets, increased competition or a pandemic, farmers are constantly faced with circumstances that cause them to change or diversify their operations.

That was the topic of a Jan. 12 panel discussion during the 2021 American Farm Bureau Federation Virtual Convention.

Matt Cunningham, owner of Rustic Brew Farm in Ohio, said his family’s farm was shrinking due to land development, low commodity prices and competition from larger farms. Worried about the farm’s future, “I decided to look for something a little more profitable,” he said.

He was already growing corn, soybeans and wheat, so he explored malting barley, which he marketed to local brewers to tap into the booming craft beer scene.

He and other speakers asserted that change and diversification are ways they can ensure their farms will continue for future generations.

That resonated with Virginia farmer Sarah Large, a Buckingham County Farm Bureau member who took part in the virtual workshop. She and her husband finish about 20,000 swine annually for Smithfield Foods and own a cow-calf beef cattle operation. She said they think about their two sons farming when they grow up.

“We’ve got to be sustainable, and we’ve got to have our operation there for them,” Large said. “We want to have something to pass on.”

The workshop also emphasized the importance of connecting to consumers with a social media presence—a requirement in today’s marketplace.

That’s something Virginia farmer Mike Cullipher, a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Specialty Crops Advisory Committee and co-owner of Cullipher Farms in Virginia Beach, knows well.

While Cullipher Farms had a website and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, Cullipher said he didn’t have an online ordering platform for the farm’s retail market. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring he had to pivot quickly.

Cullipher Farms kept revenue flowing by allowing customers to order online and pick up their purchases in a drive-thru arrangement at the farm. They relied on social media to keep customers informed of farm operation changes.