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Bob Morando, president of Farmer Direct Foods, New Cambria, Kansas, discusses customers’ demands for transparency, and how farmers can capture that value with marketing. Morando spoke with Indigo Ag CEO David Perry during the Indigo Wheat Solutions events Aug. 28 and 29 in Dodge City and Wichita, Kansas. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

How do you go about differentiating a commodity like wheat in today’s changing marketplace?

You gather information and set yourself apart with your story, explained Bob Morando, president of Farmer Direct Foods, Inc., New Cambria, Kansas. Morando spoke at the Indigo Wheat Solutions event, Aug. 28 and 29, in Dodge City and Wichita, Kansas.

Farmer Direct is a farmer-owned cooperative, the brainchild of a group of certified wheat seed growers in 1989 who wanted to promote and drive demand for the new hard white wheat varieties grown in Kansas. It captures the market niche of farm-to-table transparency that’s in demand by consumers today.

“Definitely, as a tradition, farmers have been worried about the yield and the bushels of wheat we produce,” Morando explained. And while some growers produce better quality wheat than others, that value of the quality rarely gets back to the farmer who produced it when everyone’s grain is co-mingled at the elevator. Wheat farmers get paid on yield, not quality, in commodity markets, after all.

However, at Farmer Direct, participating farmers can capture the value of their quality wheat, if they’re willing to go the extra step to collect data.

“We have a trademark and identity-preservation program,” Morando explained. This program follows the wheat from the producer’s field, to the customer’s pantry shelf. Participating growers track the history of their fields, what was applied to the field, when and in what quantities, Morando said. They know the variety planted, the rainfall and every action taken on that field. That data, then follows the wheat from harvest all the way through the Farmer Direct flour mill.

“We track all of that, starting at harvest and whether it’s stored on the farm or taken to our elevator, we track that information field by field as it goes through our mill,” Morando said. “We even code it onto the bag.”

The difference is that we know our farmers practice sustainability programs on their ground as they see fit to their situations, Morando said. But by showing the consumer the traceability of the data, they are able to develop a trust in that consumer and tell the farmer’s story like never before.

The farmers produce a very high quality wheat, and it is ground into whole wheat flour, Morando said. It reaches a consumer, like those who buy King Arthur flour, one of the many labels for which Farmer Direct mills, and by telling them the farmers’ stories, their production practices, their sustainability efforts to get higher quality grain to their tables, it builds a market for the product, he added.

“It’s really about helping the consumer understand where their food comes from,” he said. “It brings wheat production closer to home for most people.”

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com

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