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Lee Agri-Media (LAM) was formed in 1989 when Lee Enterprises, its parent company, purchased Farm & Ranch Guide. It was the first of what has become a stable of eight agricultural publications.

"Without question our network of agricultural publications has evolved from humble beginnings when Farm & Ranch Guide was distributed to producers in a six-county area in west central North Dakota," says Group Publisher Brian Kroshus, "but the mission remains the same today as it was back in 1989, and that is to serve producers in the best way possible and listen to their needs and desires. In essence, if we're not helping them to be more knowledgeable and profitable in their farming or ranching operation, then we're not doing our job."

After seeing how effective Farm & Ranch Guide was in serving producers, Lee Agri-Media added Tri-State Neighbor (S.D.) in 1993. With a similar philosophy in serving readers, the Neighbor was a perfect fit from a management and network standpoint.

"The key was that we didn't have to reinvent or apply a new culture to those employees - they already understood and made the connection to the local audience, and that made the Neighbor very attractive," states Kroshus. After that, LAM stayed busy on the acquisition front, adding Agri-View (Wis.) in 1996, followed by Midwest Messenger (Neb.) in 1998, The Prairie Star (Mont.) in 2000 and AgWeekly (Idaho) in 2002. LAM also launched Minnesota Farm Guide in 2002, and most recently it purchased Iowa Farmer Today in 2004.

Currently, LAM serves approximately 438,000 subscribers in a 12-state area of the upper Midwest. Besides the eight core publications there are a number of niche publications, including state seed guides, livestock guides, and various preprints and direct mail pieces at each location. In addition, LAM's demographic capabilities continue to gain recognition because of the quality and depth of its lists.

"Advertisers need the assurance that we know and understand the audience that we are reaching and that their advertising message is in good hands. We've proven that and continue to work toward the next level," Kroshus says.

Without question, agricultural publications need to fit the local audience; the cookie-cutter approach is no longer effective, according to Mark Conlon, editorial director for LAM. "I think the editorial quality of our publications, the local focus we maintain and the manner in which we're sectionalized on an individual market basis are key components in our success," says Conlon. "We have a real local flavor with each publication, and with our sectionalized format, producers can easily find what they're looking for. We make it easy to navigate through our products - both in print and on the Internet. Timely, local agricultural news is a must with our readers, and we're committed to delivering that with every issue."

Looking at readership scores through numerous STARCH, Belden and ReadEx surveys shows LAM has been successful, consistently ranking number one in time spent per issue, usefulness and first read, and as a buying and purchasing guide.

Farm newspapers are standing the test of time, just as daily newspapers have for years, according to Kroshus. "Behind great communities there are great newspapers, and farming and ranching communities are no different," he says. "Consider the fact that daily newspapers and farm newspapers have a number of things in common - the most important being the ability to effectively reach the local audience on a timely basis with pertinent news and information. The reality is that they work; they always have and will continue to do so."

LAM has certainly seen its network expand significantly since 1989. What the future holds no one knows, but one thing remains certain: LAM publications have a commitment to farmers and ranchers and will continue to bring them the kind of information they need and ask for. While LAM has certainly grown in size over the years, its focus continues to be, and will remain, local. AM

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