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Historically, the agrifood industry has faced a host of challenges in its quest to bring food from the farm gate to the food plate. Among these are:

* A system designed to produce standard-quality commodities,

* Significant inefficiencies in the way buyers and sellers come together and transact business,

* A poor flow of information between industry segments,

* Inadequate communication of consumer preferences.

E-Markets Inc., Ames, Iowa, has been delivering solutions to these challenges since its inception in 1996 through an e-commerce platform that connects buyers and sellers in new and better ways, while ensuring the integrity and visibility of food attributes of value to end-users and consumers.

The success the company has enjoyed in this endeavor is impressive. Last year, a half-billion dollars in transactions were conducted through E-Markets Internet applications. The company expects that figure to grow to $1 billion in 2000. In addition, the E-Markets site attracted 14,000 registered users in 1999. The company anticipates this number to rise to 50,000 by the end of this year. Experience and expertise are the keys to generating these volumes of business and traffic, says Kevin Kimle, vice president and co-founder.

"There's nothing easy about business-to-business e-commerce," he notes. "It requires experience in executing electronic commerce in the marketplace--the kind of invaluable experience we've gained by having hundreds of millions of dollars of real transactions go through our applications.

"And it requires deep, deep domain expertise--the kind of expertise our staff brings, not just in agriculture as a whole, but in specific areas such as the grain, seed, feed, and ag chemical industries, as well as the livestock business," Kimle adds.

The type of expertise Kimle talks about is evident in E-Markets' senior management team, which features nearly 100 years of collective industry experience with familiar names from companies such as Pioneer Hi-Bred, Purina Mills, Farmland Industries, Protein Technologies International, DTN and Ralston Purina. Leading this group is Dave Abbott, who joined E-Markets as chief executive officer in December 1999, after serving as chief operating officer at Purina Mills from 1990 through 1995 and president and CEO from 1995 to 1998.

"The broad-based expertise we bring to the table," Abbott says, "is critical in helping us implement and continue to execute on the business model we've established for our company."

This model is founded on an e-commerce platform of linked hubs representing the inputs, grain, and livestock sectors. Each of these hubs serves as a central marketplace, enabling buyers and sellers to come together and conduct business more efficiently. Within each hub, users will find an array of commerce-exchange mechanisms, strategic service offerings, and decision-making and risk management tools.

"The benefit of our platform is that those involved in the agrifood marketplace can do more business in less time," Kimle explains. "It helps reduce search and transaction costs for buyers. It can help agrimarketers sell goods and services--and bundle these--more efficiently to farmers. And it helps farmers by providing them access to markets and price discovery information that were previously unavailable."

The company's e-commerce platform also provides the opportunity for the creation of a vast community involving all the various segments of the agrifood industry.

"The agrifood marketplace is going to become increasingly driven by consumer demand--in fact, we're already seeing this in the ongoing debate about GM crops and foods," Kimle comments. "The strong links between E-Markets hubs will enhance the exchange of information between the different sectors in the agrifood industry. In addition to helping everyone do a better job of meeting consumer demand, these links will establish a system of traceability that is essential for improving product quality and food safety. This traceability is also critical in helping agriculture move beyond commodity production to branding opportunities that deliver more value to everyone in the chain." AM


Dan Kirkpatrick is director of editorial content for E-Markets Inc., located in Ames, Iowa.

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