How to start a grass-based business is among several sessions planned for the upcoming GrassWorks Grazing Conference. Paul Dietmann, senior lending officer with Compeer Financial, will share recommendations for starting such a business as well as marketing-direct grass-fed beef and other products.

Through Compeer’s emerging-markets loan program, Dietmann and his colleagues help non-traditional agricultural businesses with access to credit and other financial services. They mainly help those selling products direct to consumers, or through local and regional food systems.

Prior to starting a grass-based business an individual or individuals should evaluate their financial assets as well as identify their strengths and weaknesses. Selling direct requires the ability to communicate and work with customers. It also requires taking time to build a customer base. Individuals who are planning to manage larger herds of livestock or who don’t want to focus on marketing themselves may decide to sell through a company that does handle marketing, Dietmann said.

More than 700 independent farmers and ranchers, for example, sell beef, pork and lamb through Niman Ranch. The company has established animal-welfare protocols for its line of Certified Humane fresh meat, as well as smoked and uncured meats. According to the company’s website, the animals it buys are never given antibiotics or added hormones.

The company’s website features a “Where to buy” page where customers can type in their zip codes to find meat produced by Niman’s network of farmers. The website also features several of its family farmer members. Brad and Kirsten Eckerman of Quit Yer Belly Achin’ Acres of South Wayne, Wisconsin, are among the farmers featured in a question-and-answer format. They have been selling hogs to Niman Ranch for two years.

Individuals looking to start a grass-based business – or any business for that matter – should create an enterprise budget. That takes into account expected gross revenue minus variable and overhead costs to arrive at an expected net return. Compeer’s Emerging Markets team provides examples of enterprise budgets. 

Also important when planning a new business is to take into account the type of business structure one should create. Farm Commons is a nonprofit that provides audio and print materials on business structures, sales and contracts, insurance and other business topics.

The GrassWorks Grazing Conference will be held Jan. 23-25 at the Chula Vista Resort, 1000 Chula Vista Parkway, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Visit grassworks.org and compeer.com and nimanranch.com and quityerbellyachinacres1.myfreesites.net and farmcommons.org for more information.

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Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.