Central Washington University Students Dig into Agricultural Marketing for State Trust Lands

DNR’s Agriculture and Water Program recently partnered with the Central Washington University (CWU) College of Business Department of Management and Marketing to offer senior marketing students the opportunity to focus research on state trust agriculture lands as part of their senior capstone coursework. Under the guidance of Jeff Stinson, Ph.D., CWU students Rachael Wescott and Patrick Croghan explored their research questions through an internship with DNR’s Agriculture Program. Here’s what they thought of their experiences with us.

My Experience as an Intern

While researching the scope and scale of the wine industry in Washington state I was impressed with production volume, a continuous upward trend of total wineries in the state, and how the industry was able to grow even during the recession of 2008. These items were particularly motivating from a strictly business standpoint, but also illustrate how the state economy and thousands of workers now depend on the wine industry for income.

grapes on vie

Photo provided by Patrick Croghan.

Upon being bestowed with the honor of joining the DNR’s Southeast Region in an internship capacity I was able to execute the old adage that “seeing is believing”. Resident agriculture experts whisked me around the southeastern corner of the state to view hundreds if not thousands of acres under vine. The scope and scale was far beyond what pictures and web research could ever truly illustrate. In a sense this was disappointing to me. Keeping up with the Jones’ is the model for most to thrive in a DNR vineyard lease situation. The truth in this requires only a quick look at how much of the local wine industry is concentrated in the top five businesses. While the big five produce more than a million cases per year, the rest of the industry is at 380,000 or less per year. My dreams of a collective of smaller wineries sharing resources to acquire large vineyard properties on lease truly is a challenge in the first place and most wineries in that situation don’t even want that type of growth according to my research. Large wine grape growers who then sell their product are much easier to deal with for the little guy (or girl) looking to expand.

Much of my romance with the wine industry was born from the commonalities shared with the craft beer industry from which much of my previous experience lays. I have always been enamored with the idea that more competition is better for business. While Starbucks and Walmart have business models driven by pushing the competition out, the craft beer and wine industry have geographic needs that demand collaboration. Walla Walla once was an outpost where travelers would stop only \to use the restroom and grab some sweet onions. One or two wineries changed that somewhat, but now as a mecca for superior wine — produced in state with 140 wineries, tasting rooms, and wine bars — Walla Walla is a must-visit for wine enthusiasts. It’s also become a favorite destination weddings and bachelor/bachelorette parties as well as wine tours. Much of this is because of the large spectrum of premium choices in close proximity, not because a single elite winery scored a certain amount of points in Wine Spectator magazine. This development mirrors the rapid expansion of breweries in North Seattle neighborhoods that are adapting quickly to the local tech industry’s continued hiring of new workers who seem to have an insatiable thirst for craft beer.

wine cellar

Photo provided by Patrick Croghan.

What rekindled my romance for the industry is an interview over the phone with a California winemaker. His group has made property acquisitions to create more opportunities, including holdings in the popular Napa Valley as well as acreage in several developing nations. Many winemakers chose not to reply to my appeal for assistance with my student research. While many things may contribute to this non-response, the main hurdle is fear. The small wineries and other groups that did respond to my survey questions about growth expressed apprehension and a desire for “outs” or protection.

Californians and Oregonians from the Willamette Valley also “bucked” at the chance to diversify, often stating how estate-specific they were. In most industries the desire to stand still will eat you alive but there is something to be said for stability. Overly aggressive expansion is clearly filled with pitfalls as well. None the less while many in the wine industry make it big by selling to large groups, it is the smaller groups that see no borders that provide win-win opportunities for DNR leases. Borderless wine grape growers from California also are improving their bottom lines and may be the type of companies with which DNR could develop favorable relationships.

by Patrick J. Croghan, Central Washington University Class of 2016

Digital Marketing for DNR’s Public Land Auctions

As a marketing student at Central Washington University, my internship with Washington Department of Natural Resources has involved researching different marketing methods that would bring more potential lessees to DNR’s Public Land Leasing Auctions. We are particularly interested in promoting the lease auctions to a larger cross section of agriculture businesses. We are researching how best to communicate with these businesses and crea

Rachael Wescott

Rachael Wescott, a CWU student who interned in the DNR Agriculture Lands Program.

te a valuable partnership with them.

In order to expose as many potential lessees to our land as possible we are looking into the opportunity of posting the land auctions on popular farmland leasing websites in order to better increase exposure. I have also been researching different ways that farmers use DNR’s social media, newsletters, and website. This research then goes into how we can change DNR’s use of social media, newsletters and website to most benefit DNR’s clients, our tenants, as you consider participating in the land auctions.

All in all, we want to create valuable communication with our potential lessees and make the process of learning about the land auctions as simple as possible. By streamlining all of our means of communication and creating a reliable presence throughout all of these platforms, we will be able to target our ideal customer more efficiently and effectively.

by Rachael Wescott, DNR Southeast Region Student Marketing Intern