Farmers were among the first to begin using personal computers, so you might expect by now that they’d be making frequent use of ag Web sites. But a new Gallup study conducted for APA: The Association of Leading Ag Media Companies shows farmers are lagging far behind the general public in Internet usage. How can that be?
A seven-member farmer panel at a recent meeting of the North Central Chapter of the National Agri-Marketing Association shed some light. You might find some of the farmers’ 10 reasons surprising.
Reason #10: The Internet is too slow for farmers.
Regardless of its modem speed, the typical farm computer must draw data through the narrow straw of a rural telephone line, so every page builds slowly. One panelist said he’d seen what a difference a town friend’s cable connection could make and was impressed. All agreed: Having access to some kind of high-speed data transmission will be essential for farmers to begin making frequent use of the Internet.
Reason #9: The Internet is not farmer-friendly.
One panelist explained that he’d tried to run a Web search using common farm terms. The search turned up hundreds of sites that had nothing to do with agriculture. Somewhere among them there may have been a site with the information he wanted, but he didn’t bother to try to find it. Instead, he phoned a local dealer. An industry-specific agricultural search engine could make the Internet more user-friendly for farmers.
Reason #8: The Internet solves too many problems that farmers don’t have.
As one panelist put it, "We don’t lack information - if anything, we have information overload." A dairy producer said, "I’m listening to weather and markets all morning in the milking parlor - why would I ever want to go to the Internet for that information?" A crop farmer said, "I subscribe to a market advisory service. It’s what I want the way I want it."
The panelists agreed they like and depend on the farm publications they receive. So if you put exactly the same information on the Internet that already is being effectively communicated through other channels, you may only be adding to the clutter in the farmer’s already information-laden world. It would be better if Web sites added depth and currency rather than merely duplicating information in publications.
Reason #7: Too many ag sites are not current.
Given the small amount of use farmers typically give the Internet, it’s not surprising that many ag firms have allowed their Web sites to go out of date. But outdated Web sites affect more than just the image of the firms involved. They also affect the way farmers perceive the Internet.
Reason #6: Lower prices, alone, aren’t enough to attract business.
Each panel member said he’d retrieved price information from the Internet and tried to use it to bargain with local suppliers. One farmer muttered, "Of course, my dealer just said, ‘I can’t match that price.’" In the end, they all still ended up buying from their local suppliers because they value the relationships they have with their dealers more than the potential savings they could secure and because …
Reason #5: Farmers don’t trust the Internet.
"We’re not just talking about a couple hundred bucks here," one farmer pointed out. It might be $50,000 to $70,000 or more. He said he wouldn’t feel comfortable giving his credit card number to someone he doesn’t know who’s located who-knows-where and then trust that the right amount of the right stuff somehow will wind up in the right place at the right time. "Well, what if it doesn’t," he said. "No thank you. This is my livelihood that’s on the line."
Reason #4: Farmers might not trust you.
"I’m always skeptical when the person who’s giving me information is trying to sell me something," one farmer said. "I prefer getting it through a third party such as university seed trials." Farmers are torn between a desire to take quick advantage of new developments and a wariness for the unfamiliar. A strong brand identity and a good reputation are essential for agri-
marketers on the Internet.
Reason #3: You’re missing the farmer’s true information needs.
One panelist said, "I’d like a simple explanation of GMOs that I can just hand to my friends and neighbors after the media gets them worked up." Several farmers voiced concerns about how the public views their industry and the stresses they confront in trying to deal with environmental and other regulations. They said they would value timely information that could help them deal with these kinds of issues.
Some would be interested in networking with farmers who are growing identity-preserved crops or participating in value chains. The idea of chat rooms for farmers who are trying new technologies has appeal. None of the farmers on this panel was interested in getting help using the Internet to market directly to consumers, but, undoubtedly, there are farmers who would find that kind of information useful as well.
Reason #2: Your site was designed for the wrong person.
Panel members said the person most likely to be browsing the Internet is not the farmer - but his wife. Chances are your company did not develop its site with her in mind. Does that mean you should be showing recipes on your site? Probably not. But perhaps you should ask farmwomen what would make your site more helpful to them.
And the #1 Reason farmers aren’t using your Web site: They can’t go online in their tractor cabs (yet).
"That’s the only place where I’d ever have the time," one panelist said. He wasn’t kidding. For many farmers, the tractor cab is "the office." It’s where they work. If high-speed, wireless data transmission someday allows farmers to start going online in the field, you’ll start seeing farmers making a lot more use of the Internet. It’s that simple. AM
Jon Setala is a marketing communications consultant in River Falls, Wis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.