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Dramatic changes within the agricultural industry present many challenges to retailers trying to remain profitable while continuing to serve their customers. A new survey by Ag Retailer magazine examined farmers' expectations of their ag retailers.

The study evaluated services provided by ag retailers, services farmers plan to use and/or purchase in the next three years, and the relative importance of these services. The survey was geared more to large operators, with 69 percent of respondents reporting total sales of more than $250,000.

Sixty-one percent of respondents said they do business with three or more retailers. Also, price isn't as much of a factor as one might think. Offering the lowest price ranked near the bottom of retailer characteristics evaluated.

Services expected to increase in importance in the next three years include GPS variable-rate application, commodity marketing, computerized field record keeping, crop protection product recommendations, crop monitoring/scouting, and fertility recommendations.

While 66 percent of the farmers responding to the survey own a computer and 60 percent of these computer owners have access to the Internet, only 41 percent of computer owners currently use the Internet to obtain information on products and services. About 34 percent of respondents with computers use the Internet to access university information. About 14 percent use the Internet to communicate with other farmers, and 6 percent use the Internet to communicate with crop consultants.

Currently, 14 percent of respondents with computers report using the Internet to order products and services. Yet 33 percent of respondents report that they never use the Internet.

Will use of the Internet lead to changes in the way farmers and retailers do business? Twenty-one percent of those surveyed currently purchase inputs directly from manufacturers and 27 percent of farmers with more than 1,500 acres are currently purchasing inputs directly from manufacturers. AM

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