Cash Crop

The widespread agriculture industry relies on apparel.

America’s breadbasket may be short a few dinner rolls when compared to decades past, but agriculture is still a significant sector of the U.S. economy. Consider this: Farms take up a little more than half of the country, covering nearly 1.2 billion acres, according to the Department of Agriculture. The department also reports that more than 9% of the U.S. population is employed in agriculture and the industries that support it. And all those farmers and ranchers have the same need for branded apparel and work wear that your corporate clients do – though perhaps a little more on the rugged side.

In fact, some decorators have noticed a recent uptick in apparel purchases by the agriculture sector. “They are wearing more clothing than they did years ago; I know they are,” says Bob Ehlers Jr., owner of Cover-All Embroidery in Cedar Falls, IA. Lately, Cover-All has been getting a lot of requests to decorate high-visibility items – think neon green T-shirts – for the agricultural industry, with one company recently ordering about 7,000 pieces, he notes.

Farmers tend to prefer heavier outerwear and hats they can hand out to clients to advertise their business, says Brenda Bryan, owner of Turkey Creek Mercantile in Hennessey, OK. “It’s mostly the heavy, bundle-up-in-winter type stuff,” she says. Often, clients will bring in huge boxes of Carhartt jackets for full-back designs. Hooping the heavy jackets and keeping the seams flat can be a challenge, but farmers love the look of their logo transformed into appliqué, Bryan says. “That’s always a nice draw,” she adds.

Many clients in the agricultural industry request embroidery of their farm name and the specific equipment they use on the apparel they order. Bryan’s tip? Go straight for custom
digitizing, rather than hunting for an equivalent stock design. “If you find something close, but it’s not the right model, they don’t like it,” she says. “It’s got to be theirs.”

Don’t forget all the industries that support farms. Research and development into new farming technology is especially big these days, with companies trying to figure out how to feed an ever-expanding population and work the land in a more efficient, environmentally conscious way. Firms are trying “to find new ways to grow more crops with less water and farmable land,” says Brian Milne, business development manager with Hortau, a maker of precision irrigation systems that Milne says can reduce a farm’s water use by as much as 30%. He expects his niche to continue to expand in years to come: “California and other Western states are experiencing their driest period in more than 400 years. If we’re going to get more crop per drop, it’s going to come back to irrigation technologies.”

Don’t forget about livestock events like shows and rodeos. Decorator Jane Swanzy, owner of Texas-based Swan Marketing (asi/700627), focuses her efforts on creating chic branded apparel for the Houston Rodeo’s merchandise booths. Typically, trends there mimic retail. “That’s where you get to be creative and come up with the next shirt that all the ladies are going to want,” Swanzy says. What they seem to want right now are floral motifs, crosses, horseshoes and blinged-out rhinestone rodeo logos. Also popular are distressed T-shirts and caps, “the kind that look a little raggedy, like you’ve had them for 5,000 years,” she says.

The bottom line is that the growing market is a growing market, and there are profits waiting to be harvested by savvy apparel distributors.