Skip to main content

Pricing Our Products

I belong to an email list based in the next county north of us that includes small-scale farmers, local food advocates, and homesteaders.  The listserve is a great forum for discussing issues, advertising products and seeking advice on a wide range of farm-related topics.

Recently, someone posted an offer of "organic" eggs for $2 per dozen.  This person, it seems, was overwhelmed by spring egg production in his small flock (chickens always pick up their production when the weather turns nice this time of year).  As you may well imagine, his extra eggs were snapped up quickly at this price!

As for me, I found myself struggling with this offer.  We also have a small flock of laying hens - they are cared for by our youngest daughter, Emma.  By choice, we have kept this flock small - partly so that our 8-year-old can manage it on her own.  We've also made sure that Emma is beginning to understand the economics of her farming enterprise.  She charges $4/dozen for her eggs.  From this income, she pays $1/dozen for feed.  The remaining margin covers her labor - twice-a-day feeding, watering and egg gathering, weekly pen cleaning, and marketing and sales time.  We've done some rough calculations and have determined that she earns roughly $8/hour on her enterprise - minimum wage!

We use conventional feed - organic feed is nearly twice as expensive in the quantity we'd need, and we're not sure we can get the $5-6/dozen for organic eggs that we'd need to maintain Emma's return to her labor.  We've also decided that we don't want to expand the enterprise - our 15 hens seem to be just about right for Emma.

Getting back to the $2/dozen organic eggs, those of us who sell food that we produce within our community have a huge responsibility.  We are responsible to our customers, obviously - folks who buy our food expect it to be of the highest quality and wholesomeness.  We also have a responsibility to our fellow farmers.  If we can assume that farm income is critical to the economic success and livelihood of most farmers, then we each have a responsibility to understand our costs of production and to price our food accordingly.  I suspect that the person who sold his eggs for $2/dozen has no idea what it costs him to produce that dozen eggs.  While it's none of my business whether he makes a profit, it is my business when his prices put downward pressure on my prices.  Competition is a good thing, provided we're competing on the basis of sound economic analysis.

As I've written before, many of us enter the "profession" of small-scale farming at least partly because we reject the mainstream emphasis on profit and material wealth.  Despite my own rejection of these "values," I do need to make a profit from my work - profit allows me to pay the mortgage, save for my daughters' education, and maybe even take a few days of vacation each year!  When my fellow farmers price their products at a level that results in a loss (whether through ignorance or indifference), it impacts my ability to make a living.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Trade Offs

As we were building fence for the soon-to-be-lambing ewes this morning, someone drove by and asked my partner Roger how long it took to set up the electro-net fencing we use for the sheep. Roger replied, "It's not too bad," to which the driver said, "Seems like a lot of work." Roger's answer - which both of us use with some frequency, was, "Yeah - but this way we don't have to feed any hay!" The driver, who obviously wasn't a rancher, didn't understand - and I suspect even some of my rancher friends don't understand the trade off we're making. Building electric fence is a lot of work - wouldn't it be easier just to feed hay?

The paddock that Roger and I built this morning encloses about 5.75 acres of high quality forage. Since the ewes are on the verge of lambing, their forage demand is peaking. They're eating nearly twice as much grass now as they need in the late summer - after all, many of them eating for three (and p…

No Easy Answers Part 2

In mid October, some friends who graze their cattle in the mountains of western Lassen County (less than 200 miles from our home), became the first ranchers to have cattle “officially” killed by wolves in California in nearly a century. Wildlife officials confirmed that the Lassen pack killed a 600-pound heifer; four more heifers died (and were partially eaten by wolves), but the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) couldn’t confirm the cause of death. While I learned about the depredations shortly after they happened through the rancher grapevine, news of my friends’ losses weren’t made public until the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation issued a joint press release this week. The October 28 edition of the Sacramento Bee ran the story.
If you’ve read my previous blogs about wolves, you’ll probably know that I’ve frequently been frustrated with the Bee’s coverage. The paper has run guest opinions disguised as news articles, and appar…

Humbled and Excited

More than 20 years ago, I went to work for the California Cattlemen's Association (CCA). After two internships, I'd been hired by my friend and mentor John Braly as the membership director in 1992. By 1996, I'd been promoted to assistant vice president - pretty heady stuff for a young guy who hadn't grown up in the industry. I started looking for new challenges. Dr. Jim Oltjen, who was (and is) the beef extension specialist at UC Davis (my undergraduate alma mater) suggested that I think about going to graduate school to prepare for a career in extension. I considered it, but the timing wasn't right.

Fast forward to 2013 (or so) - I'd been working as a part-time community education specialist in our local University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) office for several years. The farm advisors in the office - Roger Ingram and Cindy Fake - suggested that I consider getting a master's degree and applying for a future farm advisor job. This time the id…