They Diversified to Survive

They Diversified to Survive

They Diversified to Survive

They Diversified to Survive

two farmers at farmer's market
Photo by Ken Schneider

The Beguins had one compelling reason to diversify: “We wanted to keep the ranch,” said Robert Beguin of Rushville, Neb.

With only 120 cow-calf pairs on their 2,000-acre ranch, the family had depended on its trenching business to “keep everything else floating.” It still does, but the Beguins’ agricultural enterprises have become significantly more profitable since they went organic in 1996 and since a SARE grant helped them market their new value-added products and obtain equipment to outfit a 2,160-square foot cleaning and bagging facility.

Now the Beguins sell their cleaned, organic wheat for $6.75 a bushel rather than $2.50. They ship their brown and golden flaxseed to Internet markets, their blue corn to chip-makers, their millet to California bakers and Japanese snack-makers, their radish seed to overseas sprout buyers, their oil and confection sunflowers to Minnesota, their dry beans in 2,000-pound totes to the West Coast and their pea seed to local cattle-feed and green-manure users. The Beguins’ cowpea seed goes to customers who grow the plants, then chop them young for tender salad greens.

“That blew our minds,” Beguin said.

Daughter-in-law Shelley and daughter Barb pitch in as well: They sell the family’s bean-soup mixes over the Internet, at area craft shows and during community events.

Marketing Gets Easier

“Finding markets is pretty hard the first three years,” Beguin cautions farmers considering alternative crops. “You have to spend a lot of time on the telephone. After about three years or so, they’ll start calling you.”

Beguin stores his crops for up to two years when the price isn’t right – an advantage of producing dry grains and shelf-stable value-added products – and advises other entrepreneurs to do the same. “I won’t contract millet at 10 cents,” he said. “I’ll let it sit in the bin for two or three years and I’ll get my 20 cents out of it.” His radish seed will still germinate nicely after a year and his alfalfa seed will actually sprout better.

The family’s new facility – in which they also clean crops for a neighbor – allows the Beguins to sack varieties separately. They still ship everything together, filling one California-bound truck with $15,550 worth of dry edible beans, peas, millet, and alfalfa and radish seed. Not bad, especially when the cracked-grain “cleanings” have value, too – as feed for the Beguins’ cattle.

You are reading the SARE bulletin Diversifying Cropping Systems.

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