January 12, 2007: Evelina Panayotova, monitoring
and evaluation manager for The Rodale Institute, provided
background on the current status of online marketing by farmers
and analysis of what she learned during 2006 surveys of farmer
users of Farm
A total of 217 farmers responded to 1,053 valid mailings targeted
toward the 1,320 farms listed on the directory.
Background: In 2005, more than half of U.S.
farms (51 percent) had access to the Internet—a proportion
similar to the corresponding usage rates for U.S. households,
and about a third (31 percent) reported using computers for
their farm business. These rates are a significant increase
from less than a decade ago when in 1997, for example, just
about 13 percent of U.S. farmers had access to the Internet
Objective: Evaluate the usefulness of the
New Farm Locator to find out what is working well, what is
not working as well and what new solutions its users believe
it can bring. The work was carried out by Panayotova with
the assistance of a Federal-State Marketing Improvement Matching
Grant from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service
in collaboration with the AgMap (http://agmap.psu.edu)
team of Pennsylvania State University.
Findings from the 217 respondents:
- 85 percent were from small or medium sized family farms
- 26 percent listed their farms as certified organic
- 49 percent were women
- 62 percent said they accessed Farm Locator at their homes
- 53 percent said they had high-speed cable or DSL connections
to the Internet
Nearly all (93 percent) of the farmers responding said they
set up their own Farm Locator pages, with 66 percent of them
saying they reviewed it occasionally, and 58 percent reporting
making occasional updates. More than a third (38 percent)
said they never made changed to their profile once they first
entered the information.
All information on a farmer’s or food buyer’s
profile is able to be edited, allowing for seasonal changes
to alert customers of changing offerings, hours or enterprises.
Users can add photographs or new text at any time.
Local is the focus
These farmers overwhelmingly were interested in selling locally
within their state, the case stated by 89 percent of them.
A total of 61 percent of these Farm Locator farmer respondents
recorded 90 percent of their sales in their home state.
Further targeting their marketing, 35 percent said they had
more than 90 percent of their sales within 30 miles of their
homes. While they found by a 65 percent rate that word-of-mouth
is the best advertising, when they named intentional forms
of outreach they favored online tools, including a personal
website (28 percent saying it was best) or other online directories.
The biggest challenges in marketing are in finding new customers
and covering advertising expenses. Price, communication, making
deliveries and product quality were cited by less than 10
percent of the respondents as significant problems.
To succeed at their two biggest barriers to reaching new
customers—the convenience of retail stores and lack
of visibility with their target consumers—respondents
said they believed that online tools held the biggest positive
potential. These included personal websites, e-newsletters,
blogs, collective listings and web-calendars.
“Virtual website” expands reach
|Thanks to all
those who participated in the surveys. We try to
respond to suggestions for improvement at our end,
to improve the service it affords farmers and those
seeking to buy from them. We encourage farmers wishing
to sell directly to individuals and other buyers—and
buyers who want to sign up to find new suppliers
who will sell to them directly—to add their
farms and businesses by clicking the “Add
your Farm or Business” box on the Farm
Only 54 percent had their own websites, so Farm Locator provided
the remaining 46 percent with a unique ability to be players
in the electronic marketing universe. There is no cost to
use the Farm Locator. By listing their Farm Locator URL on
printed materials (fliers, coupons and posters) and in electronic
postings on listservs or email lists, they can help more customers
learn about their farms, and have ways to pass on recommendations
The current reality is, however, that fully 40 percent of
the responding farmers were unsure how effective online directories
are compared to personalized websites or non-electronic tools,
such as print, radio and TV. Contributing this uncertainty
is the lack of ability for the profiled farmers to know when
a customer viewed Farm Locator before coming in. Only 12 percent
said they “very frequently” or “sometimes”
had customers mention the Farm Locator as a reason for coming
to the farm.
Reported benefits included:
- 16 percent reported an increase in sales, while 20 percent
reported an increase in their customer base.
- Connecting with other producers, direct contact with
farmers, increased visibility from out-of-state viewers
and great friendships with farmers.
- Full control over content, and the face that it is free
Users reported dissatisfaction with needing approval to update
photos. This moderating function by NewFarm.org staff is prevents
offensive postings. We try to respond promptly to farmer requests
for fresh images.
Other concerns are that the list of fruits and vegetables
is too specific (requiring too many check marks to cover a
farm’s offerings) and that there is no definition of
the offered farm description terms, including “sustainable”
and “organic but not certified.”
Asked for changes they would like, respondents asked most
often for automatic referral tracking to monitor customer
response to their Farm Locator listing as the first improvement,
then proposed many types of ways to promotion of their Farm
Locator profiles to new customers groups, including restaurants,
schools and retail and institutional buyers.