Don’t undervalue your crops or farm experiences

Ryan Kingma with Harris Moran Seed Co., left, talks to Randy Graham, chairman of the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, during the trade show Thursday. (Photo by Catrina Rawson)

Farmers usually hesitate to raise prices, but Hugh McPherson, a specialty grower and agritourism operator, pushes back.

“Your big problem is your internal beliefs, so go home and raise your prices,” McPherson said in a Thursday workshop at the Illinois Specialty Crop Conference.

McPherson owns and operates Maple Lawn Farms, a farm market, orchard and farm fun park in New Park, Pennsylvania. Visit maplelawnfarms.com.

The grower admitted he, too, was reluctant to raise prices on his crops or on corn maze admission and feared consumer pushback and customer losses. Eventually, he realized those fears were overblown and now advises farmer and agritourism clients to follow his example.

“Farmers grow up with a commodity mentality” of being price takers, not setting their prices, he said. Thinking that way, they undervalue themselves and what they sell.

Some farmers reason they won’t raise prices because they wouldn’t pay that much. “You’re not the customer,” he said with a laugh. “You’re cheap.”

Farmers may have an older frame of reference than their target customers. Today, consumers are most interested in sharing social media images of their on-farm experiences, he noted.

“If you sell direct to customers and work in agritourism, walk around on a busy day and hear the customers’ comments,” he advised.

While some customers may complain in person or post negative comments on Facebook and other social media, McPherson countered the impact will be less than feared and the increased profits from higher prices would offset losses.

Asked about raising prices given current food inflation, McPherson responded that consumers understand everything costs more now.

If a customer complains in person about higher prices, he advised not arguing with the person, but explaining those prices are needed to keep the farm in business.

“Thank you for giving us a shot. So, if you feel you need to buy apples elsewhere, I understand. We thank all the people who are supporting us,” he told a fictional complaining customer.

McPherson suggested farmers consider a three-tier price strategy. Admission prices, for example, would include a general price, a combination/club price and an ultimate VIP experience price. Think about separate charges for an added attraction or consumable products, like food.

His farm park expanded a “super mega ride-n-slide” with a platform for taking photos and other amenities. Offering a new attraction or expanding an existing one will deflect higher price complaints, he suggested.

For club-price deals, McPherson’s farmer friend gives customers a small bucket. When customers return, they receive a discount on products that fit in the bucket, he explained.

As for VIP admission, “there is no limit what people will pay for experiences,” such as a flower arranging class with the flowers they bought, conversation with the winemaker about their purchases and farm-to-table dinners, McPherson said.