Participate in the USDA NASS Census

Thanks to Gary Graham of Ohio State University Extension for writing this article.  We have broken it in two parts, but both installments end the same way – with an urge to sign-up, participate, and be accounted for in the USDA NASS Census.  Last week’s first installment focused on what the USDA NASS Census accomplishes and why it is so crucial to participate.  This week, Gary emphasizes why your participation is so important and addresses common misconceptions that hold producers back from contributing.

 

Why should you report?

Would you like to make more money for your production efforts?  Do you like to obtain the latest information and research to help your production process be more efficient?  Would you like to receive assistance making you more economically competitive?  Are you interested in increasing the likelihood that your kids or the next generation will be able to continue to farm?  These and many other direct and personal questions could be asked, and they are all answered by each producer taking their responsibility seriously by reporting production volumes to NASS.  Besides being a civic duty, a federal law requires you to respond to the Census.

My neighbors do not participate because of their cultural beliefs.

We live in the greatest country on earth where we have so many freedoms and choices.  Religious freedoms are a pillar of the foundation our country is built on.  Replying to NASS’s request for information does not infringe upon one’s religious or cultural beliefs.  Participating in the Census merely gives a true accounting of the volumes and values of each commodity in our great country.  Just because you chose to not take advantage of the financial benefits or programs resulting from the Census, you are still bound by law to participate and hurting yourself by not being counted.

My operation won’t make a difference.

Actually, it does.  “Since 1975 a farm is defined as any establishment from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced during a year.”  A little harsh to say but here it goes: “If you’re not a big enough commodity to be counted then you are not important enough to receive help.”  Hundreds of billions of dollars are annually distributed to states based on the information collected from the Census.  These dollars go to improve markets where your products are sold.  Promoting your commodity to consumers.  Providing research and education dollars to help bring the latest knowledge in operation efficiency assisting you in making a better living. It gives you a competitive edge over cooperate farms.  It gives the next generation help to keep agriculture growing.  So YES, it does matter when you don’t report your production.  It hurts you, it hurts other producers, and it hurts the next generation of producers.

I do not know what to do.

It’s easy.  First you need to get signed up so you can be surveyed.  NASS cannot directly visit every person producing an agricultural commodity and ask them to participate.  NASS relies on the honesty and cooperation of producers to voluntarily sign up.  Again, I can’t stress enough this will never open you up to other surveys or government agencies.

 

Before June 30, 2022, sign up for the USDA NASS Census here.  Once signed up, you will receive a Census through the mail in November 2022.  Your completed census needs returned before February 2023.  The data will be analyzed and the results reported in early 2024.

 

Commodity Producers: Your Census Participation is CRITICAL

Thanks to Gary Graham of Ohio State University Extension for writing this article.  We have broken it in two parts, but both installments end the same way – with an urge to sign-up, participate, and be accounted for in the USDA NASS Census.  This first installment will focus on what the USDA NASS Census accomplishes and why it is so crucial to participate.  Next week, Gary emphasizes why your participation is so important and addresses common misconceptions that hold producers back from contributing.

NASS Graphic Color (JPG)

“The Census of Agriculture provides the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and impartial agriculture data for every county in the nation. Through the Census of Agriculture, producers can show the nation the value and importance of agriculture and can influence decisions that will shape the future of U.S. agriculture.  Response to the Census of Agriculture is required by federal law.”

In 1790, President George Washington ordered a Census, counting 4 million Americans on farms.  In 1791 he surveyed famers within roughly a 100 to 250 mile range from the then Capital.  Those farmers surveyed were asked about crops, yields, livestock prices and taxes.  Washington proposed the National Board of Agriculture, but congress rejected it.  The 1840 population Census requested the first detailed agriculture production numbers.  Not until 1862, President Abraham Lincoln established “The People’s Department” which is todays United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  In 1863 the Division of Statistics was established, and this would evolve into today’s National Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS).  If you did the math that is 232 years for population Census’s and 182 years that an agriculture Census has been taken, yet many people do not know about it, nor participate and fail to see the value of this important process. This year (2022) is a Census year and producers need to understand the importance of their participation in the Census of Agriculture.

Let me start with the largest myth and misconception about Census participation.  The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will come after me and raise my taxes.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Due to the delicate nature of the data NASS collects, they have one of the strictest protocols for data protection.  NASS in bound by law (Title7, US Code, and the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Act) to protect private information.  Meaning NASS can never release personal information to any person, organization, nor government agency.  NASS only publishes aggregated data (summarized) and never individual or farm-specific data.

Many producers attitude is that their production information is “for their eyes only” or “nothing in it for me” to participate in the Census.  Again, nothing could be further from the truth.  Not being counted and reporting production hurts every producer.  Rumors and conspiracy theories hurt as they spread lies and false accusations about big brother watching you.  Many misconceptions have been heard over the years and none are valid nor true.  What is true is not everyone participates, and it is hurting agriculture across Ohio and the whole country.

Before June 30, 2022, you need to sign up at the USDA NASS website.  Once signed up, you will receive a Census through the mail in November 2022.  Your completed census needs returned before February 2023.  The data will be analyzed and the results reported in early 2024.

MapleMAPS

The University of Southern Maine’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) and the Atlantic Corporation recently released MapleMAPS, short for Maple Market Assessment and Planning System.  MapleMAPS provides access to over 20,000 survey responses from across the United States focused consumer preference data for maple syrup and other maple products.  According to the MapleMAPS website, MapleMAPS provides “tools that all maple syrup producers can easily use for business planning and forecasting based on specific market opportunities in their respective and neighboring states and regions, and will lead to benefits such as increased consumption of domestic maple syrup and increased sales and better profit margins for producers.”

Digging in a bit on this end, Ohio was nested with 4 other states – Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin – to form the East North Central region.  While we work more collaboratively with the states of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, it is important to note this distinction when examining the results.

From high level data, such as how much money the average maple customer spends annually…

…to much more specific information, such as this little nugget.  Of all the specific maple products evaluated, Ohio customers ranked maple water as LEAST available – a market opportunity perhaps?

To give you a taste of some of the other data available, here are just a few other bits of information pulled from the MapleMAPS searchable database.

Container material preference – most folks prefer glass and opaque plastic jugs were least popular from a desirability standpoint.

One more – 86% of survey respondents said they consumed at least 1 maple product during the summer, but use was relatively infrequent for most, only about once or a couple times per month.

The MapleMAPS tool is a deep well that can be explored for as long as you have time to dedicate to the database.  And I don’t believe the collaborating partners over-promise on the value of the resource – it is thorough and user friendly and certainly useful.  This is the exact sort of information that can make us all better marketers of our maple.

2021 Ohio Maple Madness Spring Tour

Get ready for the Ohio Maple Madness Spring Tour that starts the Saturday and Sunday of March 6th and 7th and spills over to the next week, March 13-14 as well.  Inside the Spring Tour guide is a list of producers who look forward to hosting you during this year’s tour.

Get Ready!! 2021 Ohio Maple Madness Spring Tour

The Ohio Maple Madness Spring Tour is scheduled for March 6th & 7th and March 13th & 14th.  The bookended Saturdays / Sundays event will be similar to the fall tour.  Whatever COVID-19 protocols are issued by our governor at that time will be in place for the Spring Tour.

Anyone interested in joining the 2021 Ohio Maple Madness tour should reach out to Fred or Jen at Richards Maple ASAP.  Fred’s email is fred@richardsmapleproducts.com and Jen’s is jen@richardsmapleproducts.com.  You can also call Fred Ahrens 330-206-1606 to get more information and lock in your spot on the tour.

More information will be going out to OMPA members and the event will be advertised across an array of websites and social media outlets.  The deadline to be listed in the printed advertisements has already passed, but there is still time to join the Tour and be listed in digital ads.  The fee is $90 per stop.  The cost includes OMPA membership/benefits for a year, covers IMSI/NAMSC dues for a year, and makes sure your maple operation is a part of this year’s 2021 Maple Madness Tour!

If know that you want to participate in this spring’s Maple Madness tour, reach out ASAP to Fred or Jen and have your bio, open hours, address, and any new maple recipes ready to send to the following address:

Ohio Maple Madness Tour
545 Water Street
Chardon, OH 44024

Sales and Marketing: Best Practices from IMSI

Thanks to Fred Ahrens (Richards Maple Products), Ohio’s representative to the International Maple Syrup Institute, for forwarding a memo from IMSI regarding Sales and Marketing Strategies.  The following are highlights from that document.

As everyone is keenly aware, COVID-19’s disruption of “life as we knew it” spared nothing – including your maple businesses.  Sales and marketing of maple syrup and value-added maple products were deeply impacted; however, eCommerce has emerged as a viable path forward for those brave enough to wade into the deep waters of online business, sales, and marketing.

The memo sent out by IMSI focused on sales and marketing best practices for direct to consumer, retail, and bulk/wholesale producers and distributors.  As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc with the old normal, I’ll do my best to highlight a few points that can aid in how each of you continue to refine and recast your business strategy.

1) Make sure your prices are optimized.  What producers usually think of is making sure price points are balanced between the forces of supply and demand.  While this is important, there is more to ensuring your pricing structure is optimized.  Chances are that COVID-19 has you shipping more product than in previous years.  Shipping has costs: someone’s time to package, the label, the box, the tape, the bubble wrap or other packing materials.  Spec out every last cent and make sure you are a) being efficient in terms of your time dedicated to shipping, b) purchasing materials at appropriate bulk rates to minimize costs but not overload your capacity to store supplies, and c) adjusting product prices or shipping rates at competitive levels which cover your costs and keep you operation profitable.

2) Consider a roadside “honor system” farm stand!  Target people in your local area and make it convenient and safe for people to buy your product.  Through social media, networks of friends and family, bulletin boards at your churches, restaurants, and hardware stores, and more – advertise your location, highlight your product through well-crafted and simple visuals, and drive customers to your doorstep.  If you have an online sales presence, add an additional option for order pick-up at your roadside stand.

3) Reinforce your operation’s personal story.  2020 has amplified people’s attraction to local economy and supporting neighbors and communities.  Now more than ever before, sharing your operation’s personal story and connecting with individuals will pay dividends.  Make sure your customer base knows how to reach you to ask questions, send personalized comments after orders, and thank patrons for supporting local business and eating local.  These points resonate today more than ever before – leverage them!

4) Get creative and partner.  Everyone is in the COVID-19 struggle together.  Others are being forced to think creatively about business solutions.  Those who succeed will hopefully emerge from the pandemic stronger for it, those who don’t may not.  TEAM UP!  Here are just a few ideas.  One, partner with a local blogger or print news outlet to do a promotional review and sales advertisement!  Make it a win-win and share the spotlight.  Two, share profit margins with local food and non-food stores who are willing to put your product in front of potential customers.  Three, collaborate with other members of the local food service industry to feature your maple syrup in their products – glaze the local bakery’s doughnuts, drizzle over a food truck’s ice cream sundae, or flavor a drink at the local coffee shop.  Make sure your ingredient and its story is not lost in the collaboration.  Leave customers with clear and simple instructions for how they can purchase and enjoy your product.

Sales and marketing is a big category and creativity is limited only to one’s imagination and willingness to explore new options.  Know when to dip your toe in the water and when to jump in and fully commit.  Talk with others who have successfully adapted to 2020 and benefit from their experience.  The COVID-19 reality is full of challenges, but challenges re-framed are just another name for opportunities.

Author: Gabe Karns

CFAP Webinar for Maple Producers

The news that maple is now included in the USDA’s list of crops eligible for Coronavirus Food Assistance Program relief is BIG!  For more details, you can click back to this recent post by Les Ober.

On September 1 at 7 PM, make plans to attend a webinar hosted by Ohio State University, Future Generations University (WV), and Penn State that breaks down CFAP for maple producers.  The webinar grows out of the region’s tri-state ACER collaborative.  Specific topics include how to determine your operation’s eligibility for CFAP, how to fill out the CFAP application, and other practical help to take advantage of the relief program.  Cindy Martel and Les Ober will be the speakers.

Register for the CFAP Maple webinar here.

Our team is proud that this hyper-relevant topic will open a brand new series of free webinars for maple producers.  The series will highlight diverse topics that enhance your maple business ranging from marketing and taxes to tree science and woodlot management.  The series is called Out of the Woods: Enriching Your Maple Business.

 

2020 International “Fall Into Maple” Tour Planning is Afoot

Due to the closures of the spring maple tour, state associations have pulled together something unique amidst the COVID-19 restrictions – the International “Fall into Maple” Tour.  If the tour goes as well as planned, the event could easily become an annual recurrence.  2020’s “Fall into Maple” Tour is a 10-day window that individual producers will decide which dates from October 9-18 they plan to be open.  I would recommend being open at least both weekends.

While not all state and Canadian province associations have decided how they will fund, advertise, and participate, Ohio is fully prepared to engage the tour and make it a knock-out success.  Where else in agriculture can you get farmers to join together not only across state lines but also internationally to launch a cooperative event!?  Luckily, the maple community is a tight knit “family” of sorts, and we are indeed unique in supporting one another and progressing together.

Covering some more specifics – for whatever days you participate, all current social distancing rules will apply.  Depending on your location and what you are offering, producers should expect to see 10-75 visitors per day, some much more.  Think proactively about how you will disperse visitors within your property.  Again, I would recommend any participating producers be open both weekends at a minimum.  And the more you have to offer – even if it is not maple syrup or value-added products – the more visitor traffic you will draw to your operation.

Advertising and mailings will be going out soon for the “Fall into Maple” tour.  There is no grant or donated money available at this time for Ohio producers, so we will be requiring a modest fee to be included in event outreach and communications.  Fees are:

  • $10 – If you were on the spring tour
  • $30 – Ohio Maple Producers Association (OMPA) member and were not on the spring tour.
  • $75 – Not an OMPA member? This covers the tour and next year’s OMPA.

Fees will cover many printed brochures for distribution throughout our communities and advertising for your location through various channels (social media, radio, Internet, OMPA website).  Mapping details will be included.

If you are interested in participating in the 2020 International “Fall into Maple” Tour, please contact me (Fred) at 330-206-1606 or Jen at 440-487-1660.  By email, send your message to fred@richardsmapleproducts.com.

Author: Fred Ahrens, Richards Maple Products, Inc.  Fred is also Ohio’s representative to the International Maple Syrup Institute and has made big contributions to the Ohio State Maple project.

 

If you scroll to the bottom of the Research page for the Ohio Maple Blog, you can link to the 2-part webinar series our ACER team produced in June – Accessing New Markets in This Time of Uncertainty.  The “Fall Into Maple” Tour is an excellent example of thinking outside the box and being creative to carve out new marketing and sales opportunities for producers.

Marketing What You Produce In Difficult Times

Well this has turned out to be quite a week! We knew it was going to be special with time change, a full moon, and Friday the 13th all rolled into one week. However, no one was expecting the coronavirus to descend upon us with the force of a Sherman tank. COVID-19 has shut down the world as we know it and it will make life difficult for some time into the future. Ohio’s maple season is ending, and the timing of the COVID-19 virus outbreak could not have come at a worse time for sugar makers with a full supply of maple syrup to market.

Right now, here are few things to think about if you depend on end-of-the-maple-season events to move a major portion of your crop. With the governor closing public events of 100 or more people, festivals, pancake breakfasts, and tours will all be impacted. This weekend, the Ohio Maple Tours are still proceeding but there have been several stops removed from the schedule. If you are on the Ohio Tour and you plan to be open, make sure that you know which stops are closed and inform your visitors. The worst thing for tour PR is to have people show up and only have half of the producers participating. Spread the word about closures. You should be getting this information from whatever associations are planning the tour. The end result will almost certainly be reduced traffic and sales. You need to plan to market in alternate venues later in the season.

While I have not heard yet, I expect many of the pancake breakfasts across the state may be cancelled. If so, that is a lot of maple syrup that will not be used. If you are one of the producers supplying syrup, work with the folks that are planning the event. Most of these events are major fundraisers for the organization that is sponsoring the breakfast. Remember they did not want this to happen. If they cut their syrup orders, be very understanding and work with them. We have no idea how long this COVID-19 outbreak will last. That means that forthcoming festivals and maple weekends may be impacted. Hopefully this will not last into the spring farmer’s market season, but it may. If it does, this raises a whole new level of concern.

Many people who visit farmer’s markets on a regular basis may be discouraged to attend for health reasons. Also, early season markets are often indoors or in sheltered areas. If you work these events you need to be aware of the potential health risks to you, your family, and your employees. One possible way to get around the problem is to use the Internet to market your product. Many vendors keep good records and have contact information for their customers. You can contact them by email or phone and set up delivery of maple products. If you sell a variety of products throughout the year, you might want to join a CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture. CSAs are a great marketing tool for one or several producers working in a group to sell a variety of locally grown products to customers. Customers sign a contract to pick up a basket or box of local products every week for one flat price. It is a great way to introduce new and different value-added maple products to your customers.

Please be aware that this article was not written in a state of panic. It is written to get you thinking outside the box when it comes to marketing your maple products.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension

Using the New Maple Syrup Grading System as a Marketing Tool

Two years ago this fall, the maple syrup industry completed the adoption of a new system for grading syrup. The process took a long time starting back in 2011. The International Maple Syrup Institute took the old USDA Standard grades that included USDA Grade A Light, Medium and Dark and Grade B and transformed them into four Grade A categories that would include all saleable syrup. Two important additions were the flavor descriptors and the %Tc (light transparency) range. This allows consumers to compare grades based on flavor, and the new system also opens the door for standardized instruments to be used for color determination.

The four Grade A categories are Golden Delicate, Amber Rich, Dark Robust and Very Dark Strong. You will find that Golden Delicate parallels the old Light Amber Category. Amber Rich includes all of the old medium and the very top of the Grade A Dark Category. Dark Robust includes the rest of the of the Grade A Dark category and the very Top of the old Grade B Category. The Very Dark Strong Category includes the rest of the syrup that was formally classified as cooking syrup. Most very dark syrup that is produced and does not have an off flavor or a density problem will fall in the Very Dark Strong category. If syrup has an off flavor or does not meet the minimum 66 Brix level or overshoots the maximum 68.9 Brix standard, the product will be marked as commercial syrup and priced accordingly. It should be pointed out that the retail price in most markets does not change for any of the top 3 grades, and many producers sell their Very Dark Strong syrup for the same price.

The new grading system allows producers to not only sell syrup based on color but also on flavor.  After all, flavor is what sells maple syrup! Flavor is a component of maple syrup judging that is quite subjective. Everyone has their own idea of what maple syrup should taste like. It is almost unfair to put maple syrup in a jug that has not been graded. It would be like labeling a cut of meat as beef. You as a consumer would be buying a package of meat without knowing if you were taking home a Porterhouse steak or stew meat. Today’s consumers are getting smarter about what they buy. Why would you try to sell them mystery syrup that could be Very Dark Strong, Golden Delicate or something in between? Your business would be missing out on an important part of marketing, interpreting and understanding what the consumer truly wants.

There is however, one word of caution about selling graded maple syrup – the grading better be right! Accurately grading your syrup is where spectrophotometry comes in. Today, for 60 to 80 dollars you can buy a Hanna Checker. There are more accurate and expensive models available for commercial packers, contest and grading fanatics, but even the most basic instrument is based on the transmission of a beam of light through the sample. As the product darkens, the percentage of light transmitted (%Tc) decreases. Once you have a reading, you match the %Tc light transmission reading on the device to the %Tc range of one of the new grades. Each grade has a unique %Tc range. Over the last two months putting together my maple syrup evaluation programs, I have had a chance to look at dozens of samples of maple syrup, some graded and some not. Many times these samples were so close it would have been impossible to grade accurately on a handheld temporary grading kit. This new instrumentation makes it easy to grade syrup and at an economical price point. This is just another evolution in the syrup maker’s production cycle that is grounded in pure science – start to finish.

Overall the new grading system has been well received. At many fairs and shows, we have heard conversations about the characteristics of each individual grade. Implementing sample tasting is a great way to interact with your customers. The customers themselves seem to really like the Amber Rich grade but more and more are trying and enjoying Dark Robust. This has been a learning experience for both producers and consumers alike. It is important to note that grading in many states is not mandatory, and Ohio is one of them. The other factor to remember is that most consumers are not familiar with how maple syrup is graded. Most consumers compare your maple syrup to your average table syrup which has no identity. I believe this is where maple producers can learn from the wine and craft beer industry. Those industries have built entire marketing campaigns around highlighting the various unique characteristics of their product. Is it out of the realm of possibility that we might someday include a tasting room in our sugar houses? Think about it, this could add a whole new dimension to the way we market maple syrup.

Author: Les Ober, Geauga County OSU Extension