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 (NASS, 2003).
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
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 electronically.
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
- Full control over content, and the face that it is free to
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
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.