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Friday, January 14, 2005

Ag survey finds 86% favor online marketplace

by WLJ
Findings from an Internet survey indicate future farm success will involve farmers and ranchers and their cooperatives knowing how to effectively manage the Internet for marketing. That was the sentiment registered by 86 percent of individuals responding to an on-line survey conducted by National Farmers Union, a general farm organization representing more than a quarter of a million farm families nationwide and headquartered in metro Denver.
“The purpose of this survey was to find out from farmers, ranchers and rural citizens ways they may be using the Internet and its relevance to their farm business and local cooperatives,” said Jeff Moser, project manager and NFU director of economic and co-op development.
Perhaps the most significant finding in the survey was 58 percent of the responding farmers said they used the Internet for doing farm business for buying and selling.
“From that key result Farmers Union is encouraged by helping farmers and ranchers and their co-ops to use the Internet for marketing and selling niche services and goods like specialty cheeses, par-baked breads, premium pasta, organic soybeans and natural meats,” Moser said. The survey also found that:
• 94 percent of all respondents use a computer
• 88 percent were connected to the Internet
• 80 percent use the Internet daily
• 51 percent made a purchase over the Internet within the past six months
• 47 percent are interested in marketing the products of their own farm or co-op over the Internet
• 44 percent declared they were presently members of a co-op and/or credit union
• 43 percent said their farm or the cooperative that they are associated with had a web site.
According to other recent statistics, online retailing in the United States accounts for 2.3 percent of all retail sales or approximately $100 billion annually. In the NFU survey, security was the number one Internet concern of 50 percent of all respondents, followed in order by privacy, reliability of service, affordability of service and ease to learn.
The NFU survey is part of a larger project to enhance rural business from an existing online learning center created two years ago by NFU. The Web site, www.e-cooperatives.com, was created to tie Internet education with online retailing so the specialty products of farms and farm cooperatives become more readily available to consumers, said Moser. “We seek to increase value to consumers, raise farm profits and add to the quality of rural life.”
“E-cooperatives.com educates and helps family farmers and ranchers carve out a niche, add value to their products and enhance their bottom line,” said Missouri Farmers Union President Russ Kremer. “It also helps create authentic relationships between producers and consumers.”
“I feel that consumers want convenience, and like the producers who supply the food, also focus on value, taste and health,” said Sue Beitlich, a dairy farmer from Wisconsin and that state’s Farmers Union president. Beitlich is a member of the NFU e-commerce team of farmers, cooperative specialists and Internet developers guiding the project.
Forester Research, an independent technology research company, projects that by the year 2009, half of U.S. households will have broadband at home. During this year’s holiday season, Beitlich and her client team at the NFU hope to launch the retail component to www.e-cooperatives.com. Then family farmers and co-ops will have a new venue on the Internet for reaching online shoppers seeking better produce from local farms.
National Farmers Union fielded the online survey between Aug. 10 and Sept. 6 and motivated 827 respondents by entering them in a random drawing for a laptop computer, held Oct. 13. The survey was also provided offline to attendees at various state and local fairs around the country including in California, Colorado and Missouri. Specifically, 408 farmers, ages 17-87 and from 24 states took part in the survey, representing 49 percent or near half of all individuals participating. Of the farmers, 78 percent indicated they had been farming for at least 10 years or more. The NFU survey was similar to one conducted in March 2004 by the NFU when 268 persons responded from 23 states. Seventeen percent of the survey participants identified themselves as current Farmers Union members.

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