The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farming model made its first appearance in the US in the 1980s, arriving from Europe and with clear social, economic and environmental goals. From less than a dozen CSA farms in the early 1990s, the movement has now expanded to over 3,000 farms. The proliferation of this agricultural-economic model suggests a measure of success in its objectives, yet shifting market influences reveal that CSA farms are faced with a variety of challenges and strategic issues that affect their ability to perform well for their members, farmer-owners and communities. This paper undertakes a strategic analysis of the CSA market and makes core strategy recommendations to inform farm managers’ strategic planning decisions. As more CSA farms are to be found nationwide, it follows that more individuals are taking on launching farming operations that adhere to the model, and this paper intends to cater to those entrepreneurs. As beginning farmer and rancher training programs are establishing themselves through farming coalitions, at community colleges and with the support of government funding, the new CSA farmer may find this strategic analysis pertinent and helpful. While it is the case that most beginning farmer workshops and training programs emphasize the development of small-scale production techniques, a few have tread into the realm of business planning; yet, it remains uncommon to see strategic analysis and planning included in curricula. Attention to these broad-­perspective approaches to farm management is important to keep farm managers in touch with the needs and preferences of their members—as an ever-­increasing selection of local, sustainably produced farm products are competing for CSA customers. This paper begins with a review of pertinent scholarly work that provides the framework for an analysis of the CSA market. Business strategy literature offers an assortment of applicable analytic tools for entrepreneurs and managers, but three, the idea of core competencies, Michael Porter’s Five Forces analysis, and his strategic planning method, are examined in relative depth and then applied to the CSA market. Building from these tools, subsequent sections examine strengths and weaknesses common among CSA enterprises, the opportunities and threats relevant to them in the market, and discuss the most pertinent strategic issues following a Five Forces market analysis. The CSA model’s four core competencies are formulated then presented: a relatedness with consumers, a perceived superiority of products, the sharing of a complete experience of a farm, and the employment of sustainable agricultural practices. While each farm will need to decide on its own strategic plan and objectives, a general core strategy is presented herein that addresses the market forces and current challenges faced by CSA farmers. I then make a general strategic recommendation for CSA farm managers and tie this plan to specific business activities that, carried out, may serve to enforce the core competencies commonly found in the CSA model and strengthen the competitive advantages of these farms. Key in this strategy is a focus on customer attraction, customer expectations and retention, and a broadening of the strategic scope of 3 farm enterprises. Important for the longevity of CSA farms will be a repositioning of current strategy to build on the competitive advantages found in the CSA model.


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