Alternative agriculture businesses are “popping up” nationwide

 Agriculture has always been in Gavin Spoor’s blood. As a first-generation farmer and student at the University of Missouri, Spoor was looking to create an operation outside of the traditional realm of field crops and livestock. Eventually, he found his niche growing and harvesting something a little more out of the ordinary.

“This is my first year growing popcorn,” Spoor said. “I spent a lot of time researching crops that had a higher margin than the typical corn/soybean rotation seen in the area. Popcorn has a long shelf life and fit my operation perfectly.”

Spoor Farms Popcorn is located in Martinsburg, Missouri. In addition to managing 15 acres of popcorn this year, Spoor posts updates and videos on Facebook, Instagram and his YouTube channel.

“I found out about Spoor Farms Popcorn about eight months ago,” said Austin Brown, a fellow classmate and student at MU. “I am currently helping him with an online website, spoorfarms.com, so he will be able to sell his popcorn to anyone in the world. Although it is not done yet, it is a work in progress.”

Spoor said he hopes this website will allow him to sell and market his product to local kettle corn companies, movie theaters, concession stands, grocery stores and individuals nationwide.

Several years ago, none of Spoor’s dreams would have seemed possible without the increasing rise in popularity of alternative agricultural businesses. One of the main goals of the agriculture industry has always been to feed the world’s growing population while using as few resources as possible. In recent years, however, increased pressure from traditional agriculture industries has created a situation where current operations are forced to either expand their production and maximize profits or exit the industry in order to minimize losses.

“Margins are much tighter for traditional ag today than previously,” said Dan Rhoades, assistant vice president with FCS Financial. “There is greater risk involved today to bring the next generation back to the family farm or to start from scratch.”

As a result, young entrepreneurs such as Spoor have turned to alternative farming as a way to find their niche and diversify their production. This process allows business owners to market goods, products and services that are not mainstream. According to a list compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library, these alternative crops and enterprises range from specialty and ethnic vegetables to agroforestry.

“He is in an area where traditional ag is prevalent, and to incorporate popcorn into the mix is definitely outside the box,” Rhoades said. “Although planting season is similar to traditional corn, the planting and harvesting practices, as well as the marketing of the popcorn, is different than what is the norm for the local row crop production.”

A key component of alternative agriculture businesses is diversification. By adding unconventional aspects to a current operation, producers are able to target a specific audience and set themselves apart from their competitors.

“I also own a custom spraying, chemical, and seed dealership business with a close friend of mine from home,” Spoor said. “This coupled with my popcorn operation helps me to make income while still allowing me to be involved heavily in agriculture in my area.”

Alternative agriculture businesses are located all over the nation in both rural and urban communities. Operating in a rural area has allowed Spoor to gain customer support, establish firm relationships and interact with customers on a personal level.

“People need to know where their food comes from,” Spoor said. “I believe that when people purchase directly from a farmer, we can do a better job of educating the public about why we use certain practices to raise that food. I love growing corn and soybeans but find it much easier to strike up a conversation with a person about popcorn.”

Spoor wants to continue to expand his popcorn acreage and add additional crops in the future. As of right now, he plans to complete his degree in agricultural systems management and continuously expand his knowledge of farming, networking and business management.

Throughout the process of creating and expanding his business, Spoor’s motto has never shifted.

“Dreams don’t work unless you do,” he said. “Without the help of local farmers who believe in my crazy dreams and want to see a young farmer succeed, none of this would have been possible.”

Lauren Quinlan

About the Author Lauren Quinlan

Hey, Tiger fans! My name is Lauren Quinlan, and I am a freshman majoring in agricultural education and leadership at the University of Missouri. After graduating from Mizzou, I plan to either become an FFA adviser or work for an agriculture company. Although Columbia, Missouri, is slowly beginning to feel like my second home, I am originally from a small town called Mexico, Missouri. Ever since I was little, the agriculture industry has played a major role in my life. My fondest memories come from riding alongside my dad in the cab of a tractor and learning the ins and outs of life on the farm. My family owns and operates a cattle and row crop operation, and I have shown cattle at my local county fair for the past nine years. I also help out with my family’s vegetable garden, where we grow a wide variety of produce to share with our family and friends. Additionally, both of my parents are teachers, so I learned from an early age how to appreciate the value and importance of a strong education. I am beyond excited to carry on my family’s tradition and earn my stripes here at Mizzou. This semester, I am looking forward to furthering my involvement on campus, getting out of my comfort zone and serving as a reporter for CAFNR Corner Post. M-I-Z!