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We have all received them - e-mails advertising the newest weight loss gimmick or the lowest interest rates in history. Don't forget the outrageous number of newsletters offering tips on how to find the right spouse or ways to fireproof your job.

Ag companies have taken notice and are finding ways to turn online communication tactics into something valuable. Check out the following uses of e-mail and online services to increase exposure and distribute useful information to various audiences.

Pioneer Hi-Breds International, Inc., Des Moines, Iowa, has gone a step farther than supplying information on a standard company Web site. Pioneer's GrowingPoint(SM) password-protected site is only for the loyal.

Bill Belzer, e-business manager, North America, for Pioneer Hi-Breds International, Inc.
Bill Belzer, e-business manager, North America, explains that the site is composed of loyalty tiers based on the amount of product a farm operator purchases and the number of years he or she has purchased from the company. The more loyal a customer is determines how much value-added content he or she can access on

Currently, more than 26,000 farm operators use the site. Benefits include access to credit accounts, weekly e-updates such as Scanning Your Fields e-pub, local sales contact information, daily financial information from sources such as The Wall Street Journal, and most importantly, cutting-edge research from the field.

Belzer says the field sales agronomists offer very valuable knowledge to customers who are in need of immediate, locally relevant information. An example is customized crop alerts based on growers' geographic area, production level and customer preferences. "We generate e-mail notifications for new publications being released and pest or disease alerts," says Belzer. The alerts typically drive the grower to find the full story at the GrowingPoint Web site where they will find not only the notification, but also additional links and resources to aid in the decision-making process.

Belzer explains that Pioneer is very cautious about the volume of e-mail notifications it sends, delivering only messages with real value that the customer has asked for. "Pioneer has established a trust with farm operators, and we don't want to hurt that with excessive direct e-mail," Belzer notes.

"We have found that direct e-mail is great to initiate some kind of action. In our case, it is encouraging growers to visit the GrowingPoint Web site to get customized, value-added information," says Belzer.

AGCO Corp., Duluth, Ga., held the Ready to Rumble sweepstakes last fall to promote the new AGCO tractor - a culmination of the two existing AGCO brands, the AGCO Allis and White tractors. The company used e-mail to let growers know the new AGCO tractor would be making appearances at several fall 2001 farm shows and that they could register to win one year's usage of the new AGCO tractor.

Allison Bass, media manager of AGCO
To pull off this "groundbreaking" communication plan, AGCO went to Farm Journal Media's Web site,, Philadelphia, for help, says Allison Bass, media manager of AGCO. Using AgWeb's vast database of registered users, AGCO communicated with users who had opted to receive updates. A custom e-mail was sent to nearly 3,000 users with 500-plus acres of row crops within 200 miles of Husker Harvest Days, Big Iron Show, Ohio Farm Science Review, WI Farm Progress Show and the Farm Progress Show.

Additionally, banner ads placed on allowed users to register for the sweepstakes. According to Bass, the ad received more than 300,000 impressions in the fourth quarter of 2001. Also, 1,808 users entered the sweepstakes online.

AGCO and AgWeb have teamed up for Ready to Rumble 2, which began in February and ends Nov. 30. AGCO hopes the lucky winner of last year's sweepstakes will make the switch to the AGCO tractor after his trial run is complete, says Bass. "That would be the greatest testimony to the effectiveness of this campaign," adds Bass.

When Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, Lavergne, Tenn., tested the waters with a pilot e-newsletter, it was surprised to see how much the project benefited not only the small target audience of west Tennessee row crop producers, but also the co-op's own employees.

Joe Huffine, manager of member services for Tennessee Farmers Cooperative
Joe Huffine, manager of member services, says, "The biggest surprise was the internal benefit. We found out quickly that sending the newsletter to our employees provided information for our local agronomists to take to producers and allowed everyone to be keyed into the same information."

The newsletter, developed by Tennessee Farmers Co-op and Doane Agricultural Services, St. Louis, contains information on corn, cotton, soybean, wheat, pasture management, Tennessee agriculture, U.S. and world ag news, and current issues.

Alan Sparkman, agronomy marketing manager, supervises regional agronomists and local agronomy specialists. He says the agronomy staff was very interested in the articles included in the e-newsletter.

"The agronomists took the e-mail information and translated that to one-on-one meetings with growers," Sparkman explains. "We even had some who printed the articles and distributed them at grower meetings or directly mailed the information to growers."

The federated regional cooperative, which is owned by 69 member stores, plans to move forward with a permanent e-newsletter. Huffine also mentions the possibility of expanding the newsletter to targeted groups of producers, such as dairy and beef producers, row crop producers, and niche markets.

Huffine praises the concept of electronic communications pieces. He says it is great to be able to track communications and know exactly who is opening them and what items producers are most interested in. Huffine adds that the program has integrated well into the co-op's other electronic strategies.

"E-mail communications are a great part of a complete marketing plan. We don't plan to drop our traditional marketing strategies, but we will continue to work e-mail into the mix," he explains.

Syngenta, Greensboro, N.C., and Doane Agricultural Services teamed up on notifications to fortify each other's Web activities. "We are experiencing unexpected value in our work with Syngenta's," says Bob Wanzel, Doane Ag Services communica´´ion manager. "We developed a weekly e-newsletter called MarketWatch, which highlights factors affecting the commodity markets each week - and has nearly a 90 percent open rate. FarmAssist partnered with us to launch and, two Web sites that help growers see potential trouble spots in their fields."

Value for both partners occurred when Doane's MarketWatch e-newsletter included teaser articles reporting corn and potato growing conditions. The readers were directed to the growing condition sites, which in turn helped direct traffic to Syngenta's "The process worked in reverse as well," explains Wanzel.

Warren Boerger, head of e-business, NAFTA for Syngenta, says, "We have been happy with the service and value we have been able to bring to the channel and their growers through these tools. We are looking for ways to enhance our abilities based upon these types of tools."

Syngenta also partnered with AgWeb to launch one of its newest brands, Callisto. In November 2001, Syngenta utilized AgWeb's database of opt-in users to send e-mails to corn growers with 250-plus acres in a targeted geographical area to launch the Callisto brand and educate producers about the new product. According to AgWeb's brand impact study, awareness of Callisto went from 15.2 percent to 24.8 percent as a result of the overall campaign.

Alex Moore, Internet marketing manager for Syngenta
One of the campaign pieces was an interactive training module. Alex Moore, Internet marketing manager for Syngenta says the modules typically include product information, benefits, usage and application information, any available research and often an interactive quiz that qualifies growers for a promotional item.

Moore says e-mail campaigns thus far have had a high response rate and are a great way to spice up product information. "E-mail campaigns that refer users to a Web site are much more interactive than paper. The sound and visual capabilities really bring the information to life," he says. "Producers often say they use the module to gain a better understanding of the product and how it may apply to their business," he continues.

With higher response rates and positive feedback from producers, Syngenta plans to include e-mail and interactive campaigns in many of its future brand launches. AM

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