To remain viable farmers need to address a range of issues. Sustainable agriculture is now a well recognised approach and farmers understand and welcome the need to follow these practices. For an enterprise to remain successful in the long term they must farm sustainably. Many farmers I have spoken to say that in the 80's no one really cared too much about such practices but they quickly got on board when they saw the problems that erosion and salinity were causing. The success of the Landcare initiative has made it so that sustainable farming is now a given.
If an enterprise continues to achieve sustainable practices that improve their farm environment and add productivity to it then to be financially viable they need to focus on being competitive. Remaining competitive in a market containing cheaper, though often lesser quality products from overseas relies heavily on good marketing and creating better consumer awareness. One of our main growing regions lies only 25 minutes out of the city, so why would we want to buy products that are transported in cold storage long distances, often with little understanding of how or where they were grown?
Convenience plays a big part. Consumers are often time stretched and want to go to one big supermarket to purchase all of their products in the one place. Often these supermarkets require fruit and vegetables that have good shelf life and won't blemish if they take a few bumps in transport. Unfortunately this means that the varieties of produce selected for growing are chosen for just that and not necessarily for taste or nutrition.
This is where farmers can address their marketing strategies, pushing their product as organic, local, fresh and nutritious and created sustainably. Good communication with retailers is an important issue to focus on for any farmer, local marketing and making sure people buy local and have a preference to do so is also key.
Diversity of products is another aspect of success. A farmer who has the ability to shift to the consumer's interests or even define a consumer's interest is always going to have an edge over other wholesalers by promoting a quality product that people will want to buy. There is a section of the market that seek out new products and look for variety. Value adding to an already successful product also helps. We see it all of the time, take olive oil for example. You can buy olive oil with chilli, with garlic or infused with lemon.
People will always pay for quality products so attaining a consistent standard will ensure that a farming enterprise will remain viable. Food is a necessity and the sustainable farming of fresh organic produce along with the ability to create and cleverly market a product that is just as good, if not better than an import is critical but remember, maintaining a standard can make or break a business. One poor batch of produce could turn a fickle consumer away permanently.