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Students Market Food Products

By Jenny Bjelland
UW-RF News Bureau

MARCH 11, 2005--Through a new USDA Challenge grant, UW-River Falls students are learning how to direct market agricultural products. The grant, dubbed "Pig-to-Plate," aims to create a student-run company to produce, market and distribute pork products from the UW-RF swine herd.

UW-RF animal science professor Gary Onan and agricultural economics professor Brenda Boetel wrote and proposed the two-year grant, which began in September 2004.

According to Onan there is a demand for such a unique, hands-on course. "Direct marketing of agricultural products is a growing industry, and no other UW-RF course was designed to address the nuts-and-bolts of direct marketing," said Onan. Many small farms have implemented direct marketing or niche marketing of their food products to increase sales and ease the pressure from larger farming operations.

The new curriculum will give students direct marketing experience as they work to develop an enhanced market for the UW-RF hog operation. Currently the first of two courses is being offered. The introductory course aims to familiarize the 11 enrolled students with the direct marketing concept through the completion of a mock business marketing plan for an agricultural product of their choice.

Students will select their own product, perhaps one they could produce from their own farm, and then develop a marketing plan for that product based on its unique characteristics.

Other topics covered by the course include government food-handling regulations, competitive analysis, financial analysis, product presentation, and advertising and promotion.

The second course offers students a hands-on learning experience. According to Onan and Boetel, co-teachers of both courses, the students will create a limited liability corporation to manufacture, market and distribute UW-RF pork products. Students enrolled in the second course will determine a marketing plan for the products and then serve as production line managers for the duration of the semester. Clubs from the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences will have the opportunity to buy into the corporation and can also receive added returns by serving as the supply labor for the company. "The goal," says Onan, "is to start marketing the product sometime before next Christmas."

Said CAFES Dean Steve Ridley, "I believe this is a wonderful and unique opportunity for students to participate in hands-on learning activities that require real-world problem-solving and decision-making skills. The Pig-to-Plate program, when fully implemented, will be a student-managed agribusiness venture providing experiences that transcend the entire food chain from animal genetics through production, processing and marketing of food products. Opportunities for success and, of course, failure abound at every step."

The Pig-to-Plate grant offers students and CAFES clubs members' practical experience as an integral part of a direct marketing operation. Faculty hope that within two years the corporation will be running successfully, so that the profits can be used to carry the course and concept on to future UW-RF students.

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Last updated: Tuesday, 22-Jun-2010 16:21:20 Central Daylight Time

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