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How to Become a Produce Broker
Growing produce still relies on farmer-driven practices, but there is nothing old-fashioned about the care and harvesting of crops in today’s society. Trains, planes and trucks play an integral part in getting food to market, but this is still a “people” business where produce brokers are an essential link. Start early to prepare for your future as a produce broker, and you could wind up as a top banana in this vital industry.
Plant your roots in the produce industry as early as possible. Work at a grocery store or market. Even if your job consists of unpacking produce and setting up apple displays after school, this introduction to the world of produce offers invaluable training, and you will probably have opportunities to meet and interact with brokers representing local farms and ranches.
Study food science at a local college. Contemporary pesticide, fertilization, seed propagation, hybridization and genetic alterations are all subjects you need to understand if you are to effectively represent the interests of farmers. Learning how produce prices fluctuate, the way commodities markets work, plus the U.S. government’s role in crop subsidization and food regulation also prepares you to negotiate on behalf of future clients.
Work for a produce distributor or broker in any capacity to get your feet firmly planted in the industry. Brokerage jobs are more prevalent than you might think, even if you live in a city where buildings are taller than a farmer’s field. Seek work within produce districts in major metropolitan areas or at hubs that centralize the collection and distribution of fruits and vegetables.
Form your own brokerage business when you feel you are ready to go solo. Obtain a broker’s license from your state’s department of agriculture. Use the contacts you made at previous jobs to get started. Make presentations to chain stores, regional headquarters and wholesale groups -- anyone in a position to buy large quantities of produce from local sources.
Expand your business. Sign additional clients so you are able to negotiate on behalf of multiple growers, distributors and retailers. You will compete with brokers representing small farms and cooperatives and work through the same weather, transportation, gas shortages and acts of Mother Nature issues that affect even the largest companies.
Anticipate occasionally wearing a marketing hat. For example, if you broker avocados on behalf of several California farmers, and they agree that a Cinco de Mayo promotion would be an ideal way to expand avocado sales in late April, your job could include overseeing the campaign, monitoring sales and reporting results to your clients.
Helps small, independent farms compete with big brands. Use your years of real-world experience in produce-related jobs to help their businesses. Your own history -- the one that goes back to apple stacking after high school -- will make you a formidable advocate for clients as you grow your business into the future.
Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.