April 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 2 // Tools of the Trade // 2TOT1
Using the Internet as a Farm-Marketing Tool
This article describes a program developed to instruct producers in the use of the Internet as a farm-marketing tool. A survey was sent to hay and straw producers requesting information about the types and seasonal availability of hay and straw produced. A database was compiled from the information, and a Web site was developed. The Web site, which has been extremely useful to local producers, also serves as a teaching aid for an Extension program on the use of the Internet in agriculture. The program presents information about Web sites, search engines, and the development of Web pages. The objective of the program is to introduce producers to the informational resources and marketing potential of the Internet. Part of the program entails the construction of a Web page using commercially available Web-page-development software.
New Jersey farmers are continuously challenged to produce commodities while maintaining productive open space in the most densely populated state in the nation. The state is a mix of urban, suburban, and rural communities, with a total population of 8.1 million people. Approximately 18% of the total land area is farmland, 50% of which is in field and forage crop production (USDA, 1999). However, field and forage crops net a lower dollar per acre return than most crops in New Jersey. Low profit margins combined with high land and production costs greatly affect the present and future viability of the industry. In order to remain in operation, field and forage crop producers must be proficient in both crop production and business management.
New Jersey has over 120,000 acres of farmland dedicated to hay production with a market value in excess of 33 million dollars (New Jersey Agricultural Statistics Service, 1998). A substantial portion of the hay and straw produced is used to support small livestock producers and the equine population. The state currently estimates a horse population in excess of 49,000, of which approximately 35% are classified as pleasure horses (NJASS, 1996).
The small livestock producers and pleasure horse owners provide a steady hay and straw market for many producers. Producers are continually seeking to more fully develop the market potential for their hay and straw crops. However, the sale of hay and straw often represents the only form of direct retail sales practiced by many field and forage crop producers. The sale of hay and straw is most often by referral. As a result, many of these producers do not have significant experience in market promotion and development.
Use of the Internet
The use of the Internet continues to expand. It has been reported that Internet usage doubles every 100 days, with an estimated 62 million Americans now using the Internet (Bridis, 1998). New Jersey is estimated to have over 1.5 million Internet users. According to a July 1999 report from the USDA Economics and Statistics System, New Jersey has the highest farm Internet access rate, with 53% of farms reporting Internet access.
The Internet has provided a means of delivering a vast array of information for education, research, entertainment, and business. The medium also offers a means by which farm producers can relay information about their agricultural operation to the non-agricultural community.
Given the farm-marketing needs of producers and the potential of the Internet to help meet those needs, an Internet database of hay and straw producers was developed. Also, classes on the use of the Internet and Web page design were conducted for agricultural producers.
A survey was sent to hay and straw producers requesting information about the types and seasonal availability of hay and straw products produced. From the responses, an informational brochure and World Wide Web Page were developed. The brochure has been distributed to numerous individuals, and the Web site has been accessed several hundred times. The Web site has also been linked to drought-related Web pages in the region as a resource for locating forage. Producers listed on the Web page have reported being contacted and selling hay and straw to out-of-state buyers. The directory has proven to be so successful that producers in surrounding counties requested that it be expanded to a regional directory. In response, the directory was recently updated to include the southern region of the state.
To further provide information about the potential benefits and applications of the Internet to agriculture, a 3-hour class was developed for producers to discuss Web sites, search engines, and the development of Web pages. The objective of the class is to inform producers of the informational resources and potential marketing benefits of the Internet. The class is taught using a desktop computer, LCD projector, and PowerPoint slide presentations.
The class is designed to be informal, with live Internet demonstrations. In order to incorporate the use of live demonstrations, it is necessary to schedule the class during the day. This avoids connection problems and the "Net Congestion" that can be encountered during the evening hours. The class provides a basic introduction to computers and Internet service providers. Program participants are provided with an overview of search engines and ways to effectively conduct a search on the Internet. Live demonstrations are conducted featuring specific Web sites, and searches are conducted using audience-provided topics. The remainder of the class is focused on developing a Web page and discussing the potential uses of the Web for farm marketing. A Web page is constructed using commercially available Web-page-development software.
The class has been presented several times. Follow-up evaluations have indicated that the class was very useful to participants. Many reported feeling more comfortable with the use of computers and the Internet following the class.
The Internet has become an informational resource for many individuals. The growth rate of Internet use continues at a phenomenal pace. The presence of World Wide Web addresses on product labels, advertisements, and stationary provides evidence that many businesses have recognized the value of the internet as an informational resource and marketing tool. Therefore, it is important that Extension professionals teach agricultural producers to become familiar with this resource and take advantage of its use in market development and promotion.
Brides, T. (1998). Cyberspace is driving America's economy. Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Vol. 71, No. 259.
New Jersey Agricultural Statistics Service. (1996). 1996 equine survey. New Jersey Department of Agriculture: Trenton, NJ.
New Jersey Agricultural Statistics Service. (1998). Annual Report Agricultural Statistics. New Jersey Department of Agriculture: Trenton, NJ.
USDA, Economic Research Service. (1999). NJ Fact Sheet [Online]. Available: http://www.econ.ag.gov/epubs/other/usfact/NJ.htm
USDA, Economics and Statistics System. (1999). Farm computer usage and ownership report [Online]. Available: http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu