Mary Ann Hanson
When farmers log on to DirectAg.com, the agrimarketers represented there gain a key competitive edge, according to Kip Pendleton, DirectAg.com president.
"The site's business package is designed to help agrimarketers add value for their customers," he says. "This is an efficient, cost-effective way to reach customers anytime, anywhere."
Launched last August and based in St. Paul, Minn., DirectAg.com is a business-to-business Internet site where farmers purchase name-brand products and services from major agricultural suppliers any time of day or night. They also can access the latest ag-specific news and markets and send questions to the Virtual Agronomist from Agri-Growth.
POISED FOR THE FUTURE
The management of DirectAg.com believes they are in the right place at the right time. "There will be an explosion in ag Internet buying in the next six to 12 months," predicts Steve Baker, vice president of business development. "Farmers already have a 5:1 incidence of purchases on the Web compared with consumers or small businesses." Baker cites several reasons for farmers' Internet buying affinity:
* Farmers have a history of catalog and telephone shopping.
* Farmers are early adopters of new technology.
* In today's economy, farmers are looking for efficiency-boosting measures.
* The Internet is convenient, available 24 hours a day.
* Farmers want cutting-edge knowledge along with competitive prices.
"Knowledge ranks high among farmers' most important inputs, and the Internet is a tool for turning information into knowledge," adds Baker.
To help quench farmers' thirst for knowledge, the site's Virtual Agronomist provides an online question-and-answer forum with the expertise provided by Agri-Growth, the leading independent educational resource for farmers.
Available free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Virtual Agronomist can answer any question on subjects from planting to crop protection to biotechnology. Farmers simply submit questions and they usually receive answers within two business days. "DirectAg.com gives us the opportunity to distribute real-time knowledge," says Dr. Jim Ladlie, president of Agri-Growth.
The site has other in-depth information providers besides Agri-Growth. Farm Progress Publications, for instance, boasts a network of 50 editors contributing daily news coverage of the latest ag news events.
NEW ALLIANCES BOOST PRODUCT OFFERINGS
Two recent alliances demonstrate an aggressive growth curve. In December, Stine Seed Company joined DirectAg.com. With the industry's largest private soybean breeding and development program, Stine's addition allows site users to choose from one of the most extensive lineups of Elite and Roundup Ready soybeans, as well as Stine's own line of proprietary hybrid seed corn.
Harry Stine, president, believes offering farmers e-commerce through DirectAg.com complements the company's existing distribution system. "We are committed to providing our customers with choices, and that includes choices in how they can purchase Stine seed products.
In January, DirectAg.com gained a financial component in its lineup with Royal Bank Financial Group, the second largest global ag bank. "This enables producers to access the banking, credit card, bill-paying and discount brokerage services of a global leader in financial services and agricultural banking," says Pendleton.
Services are provided primarily through Security First Network Bank (SFNB), the world's first Internet Bank, and Bull & Bear Securities, Inc., an online discount brokerage firm.
MORE SERVICES ON THE WAY
Pendleton says DirectAg.com's list of offerings continues to grow. On tap are alliances with other leading agribusiness and financial companies, including ag chemical, farm equipment and parts, and animal health companies.
"Farmers are reinventing the way they work, do business and build alliances," he concludes. "Companies that successfully market to these farmers are reinventing themselves, too, with evolving logistics, distribution systems and product offerings.
"DirectAg.com exists in response to both of these closely interwoven needs." AM
Mary Ann Hansen is a writer for Colle & McVoy in St. Paul, Minn.