To tell a farmer to forget about dirt borders is heresy, but third generation Arizona vegetable grower and marketer Jim Woodson told producers just hanging on to the home place in the wake of political pressure is a road to ruin.
He told his fellow vegetable producers at the 10th annual Desert Vegetable Crop Workshop and Expo in Yuma, Ariz., recently that "we are growers and marketers of vegetables - not dirt managers. The family farmstead idea is a source of death in the vegetable business."
The focus of a successful vegetable producer today should be "enterprise management."
Woodson's great grandfather came to Arizona four decades ago, buying a cattle ranch near Wickenburg, Ariz., and about 4,000 acres of farmland west of Phoenix where the family grew mixed vegetables for many years. Del Webb's Sun City retirement community is now there.
"The cost of production went skyward; we were losing the fight for water; losing the fight on pesticides and losing the fight for markets," said Woodson.
Woodson, who is a partner in Phoenix-based firm of Woodson, Delgadillo and Jacques, Inc. did not get out of the vegetable business. He globalized and expanded, now producing vegetables in 14 countries.
He was one of the first Americans to move to Mexico, setting up a melon and onion deal south of Laredo, Texas. That was 30 years ago, and he has never looked back. He identifies his company as an American-based corporation farming outside of the U.S.
He said success is coming to vegetable producers who change production from a single point to multiple points, including globalization.
He said vegetable producers must abandon the notion of a family farm or homestead and quit fighting political battles to "save dirt. Every time we do that, we shoot ourselves in the foot. Political battles only prolong the downhill of the enterprise." The forces of economic change are too great for farmers to win. And, he added, farmers must look at their own resources for success and reduce their dependency on government.
Seasonality is no longer a competitive advantage in vegetable marketing because post harvest technology makes all vegetables available year-round.
`Modern strategies' "Shooting ourselves in the head in vegetables is a tradition," he said, but "occasionally we get inspired and ask ourselves how we can get out of the mess."
One route to that is to implement "modern corporate strategies" to vegetable marketing. One way to do that is to focus on the 160 consumption centers in North America and see where there may be a profit. That could lead to restructuring to produce multiple crops in multiple zones and diversifying into value added products. And don't look to so-called "niche markets" for long term success, he said.
"Niche is a point and time that only lasts a certain period of time. If you follow a niche strategy, you only prolong the downward decline." There's no unique produce anymore, he said.
And reducing cost is another ill-conceived approach. "Really low cost production is to spend nothing at all. There is a limit to low-cost strategy," he said.
Vegetable producers must focus on those consumption points and the 80 to 100 potential competitors into those points. "You have to understand what others are doing and then come up with a business strategy to move product at a profit. And, there are producers who are succeeding at that today," he said.
There's plenty of resources to lead to that success, including post harvest and enterprise technologies. "We have access through universities and other sources to these technologies at a cheap cost," he said.
Growers are trained as agronomists and dirt managers. Today vegetable producers, however, must be marketers.