This blog begins a new series for you from Iowa Retail Initiative. One of our founding goals was to provide information about assistance for retailers that is available across the Iowa State University campus. Our university is a big place, and we have lots of experts across a wide range of topics. But to be honest, it can be difficult to find all the pockets of expertise that are available. We’ve done some legwork, talked to people, and gathered some interesting information to share with you over the next few months!
Today’s blog post focuses on resources available from the Value Added Agriculture office.
IRI Co-Director Susan Erickson recently sat down with Value Added Agriculture Program Manager Ray Hansen to hear about their programs that might benefit Iowa retailers. Hansen reported that the most visible and widely applicable resource is the feasibility studies done through his program. Their Business Consulting page provides some details here.
Because the program comes through USDA, these feasibility studies are only available for rural areas of less than 50,000 population. This is most of Iowa’s cities, as only 11 of 944 cities in Iowa have more than 50,000 population. Feasibility studies act as a neutral third party audit of a business plan to help in economic justification and decision-making for business start-ups. Hansen’s office has done feasibility studies for a wide range of businesses, including
- small manufacturing facilities,
- grocery stores,
- nursing homes, and
There is a fee for the feasibility studies, and the fee varies widely, depending on the complexity of the business plan, the depth of the review, the need for external consultants, and number of hours required.
Feasibility studies are not the only retail-related resources from the Value Added Agriculture office! The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) is a national virtual resource center for value-added agricultural groups. The purpose and mission of the AgMRC is to provide producers, processors and service providers with critical information to build successful value-added agricultural enterprises.
On a recent visit to their website, I found helpful information for entrepreneurs gathering information on starting businesses on a variety of topics:
- hosting rural weddings
- clay target shooting facilities
- wine trails
- alpaca fiber
- blueberry production.
Just about any agricultural product you’re interested in has information available.
The Value Added Ag office also offers several other signature programs, all described on this page. MarketMaker is a national network of states that connects farmers and fishermen with food retailers, grocery stores, processors, caterers, chefs, and consumers. It is an ever-growing partnership of Land Grant Universities, Departments of Agriculture, and food and agricultural organizations investing in a coordinated effort to build a virtual infrastructure that brings healthier, fresher, and more flavorful food to the average consumer.
Market Maker works to help create strategic partnerships between producers, businesses, and consumers. As Iowans become more discerning in their food choices, this may be a great way for retailers to market specialty produce, meat, and seafood products.
There are several other signature programs that may be helpful to Iowa retailers from more narrow demographic segments. Annie’s Project is an educational program empowering women farmers and ranchers with the skills and knowledge they need to help make their operations successful. There is also a Women in Agriculture program that provides assistance to women all along the path from production to processing.
As you can see, the Value Added Agriculture office has a myriad of resources available for business startups in rural locations, as well as good research-based information on marketing agricultural products of all kinds. Contact any of the staff to find out more about their offerings.