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AG ONLINE LEADS IN THE POLLS
Want to have a say in what you read in your farm magazines? Want to help agribusinesses better serve farmers and ranchers?

These are just a couple of the many questions posed by Successful Farming and Agriculture Online's research panel. Beginning early this year, the panel, known as Ag Adviser, has polled farmers on such topics as crop planting intentions, farm media attitudes, animal health concerns and crop production issues. And this is not only for the company's benefit. Participation in Ag Adviser is allowing farmers to have a say in what they read within the pages of Successful Farming magazine and online at www.agriculture.com.

Ag Adviser got its start as an extension of both research panels that involved Successful Farming subscribers and Web polling features. "Polling has been a big part of Agriculture Online since its launch eight and a half years ago," says John Walter, editor of Agriculture Online. "Our Ag Poll feature has always had a prominent place on our home page and has been popular with our Web site users."

The demographics of the panel closely mirror the magazine subscribers. Through Web promotions, e-mail newsletters and an exhibit at last year's Commodity Classic, the team has recruited just over one thousand participants, which Walter says is the "optimal level for an online panel." He explains that 500 responses are needed for a credible sample and Ag Adviser's response rate has fluctuated from approximately 60 to 80 percent.

"These high response rates are one of the big advantages of using a panel," Walter says. "And, of course, the approach lets us know the characteristics of the people responding, and maybe just as important, who's not responding."

The team at Agriculture Online relies on the expertise of magazine and Web editors, industry experts and agribusiness partners to help shape and develop the monthly surveys. For instance, Walter says the recent animal health survey conducted by Ag Adviser was developed with the help of an extension veterinarian and a leading animal health product expert.

Gathering information and expertise from both internal and external sources allows Ag Adviser to be at the crux of timely and critical issues. "One advantage of the online panel is that it can be mobilized quickly to query farmers on issues that are highly topical. For example, our planting intentions survey last spring, conducted over a month's time, gave us a good snapshot of how farmers were changing their minds about corn planting as nitrogen prices ratcheted ever higher during that period," Walter explains.

The capability to measure the changing attitudes of a group of farmers over time is also a valuable benefit of the online panel. Walter says Agriculture Online is working with marketers to track certain trends and how attitudes might shift in response to changing conditions on the farm. "The online panel approach gives you the ability to poll a group of farmers and get good results quickly, and also look at changes in attitude over time," he says.

A few of the upcoming panel topics will include agronomic issues, such as herbicide use trends and precision farming technology, as well as trends in forage production in relation to new technology and changes in federal farm programs.

SHAPING THE FUTURE

The Ag Adviser tagline reads "Shaping the Future of Farming," which leads one to believe that the research panel is more than just a way to gather acreage numbers and market attitudes. According to Walter, the panel is helping to shape the editorial views and plans through the regular interactivity that it allows. "Our editorial approach is one that starts with understanding what farmers want to know about crop and livestock production, business issues, family needs and so on," Walter says. "The Ag Adviser panel gives a new tool for drilling deeper into these issues.

"In the media survey last spring, for example, we saw some interesting attitudes about media choices and story preferences, and we used those findings in our annual Successful Farming planning meeting. Those farmers definitely will have had an impact on how SF and Agriculture Online covered agriculture this year," Walter concludes. AM


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