Business Feasibility, Marketing, and On-line Direct Marketing; In-depth Training to Better Serve Sustainable Agriculture Business
In rural areas there are often traditional agricultural professionals nearby to help producers with the latest production issue or challenge but there are seldom experts who can help these same producers see a new untraditional market or develop a successful niche marketing plan.
The goal of this project proposal is to increase the small business knowledge, skills and confidence of recognized public sector agricultural experts in Nebraska and neighboring states so that they can better consult with sustainable agricultural producers as they formulate and develop business enterprises. Specifically, it is designed to increase the: 1) number of agricultural clientele assisted; 2) diversity of sustainable agricultural ideas that move to the marketplace; and 3) quality of the feasibility, marketing and online direct marketing web site plans of agricultural producers contemplating the development of sustainable agricultural business enterprises.
This will be accomplished in 2010 and 2011 through: 1) three face-to-face trainings and a series of follow-up Internet webinars; 2) the development of a web-based “tool box” of resources, which will include regionally relevant agri-entrepreneur examples; 3) new/strengthened educational individual and institutional networks, and 4) and an evaluative case study.
The project has both process and impact performance targets.
Process target indicators are:
- the number of participants actively involved (includes counts on the number of participants attending trainings and webinars)
the level of consistency of participant expectations with program delivery and of the project resource dispersal as per a telephone survey with participants mid-way through the project.
Impact targets are divided into both short-term and intermediate-term. A pre and post on-line/electronic survey will be the cornerstone of the impact assessment. Indicators will closely follow the proposed logic model. Indicators include:
- the level of awareness of the importance, functions, and interaction between the components of a feasibility, marketing and on-line direct marketing web site plans;
the level of knowledge on the resources available to help you collaborate with producers as they develop a feasibility, marketing and on-line direct marketing web site plans;
the level of motivation in working with producers as they take sustainable agricultural ideas into the marketplace;
the level of confidence in working with producers as they take sustainable agricultural ideas into the marketplace;
the level of skill in working with producers as they develop feasibility, marketing and on-line direct marketing web site plans.
- the number of sustainable clientele assisted (in the development of feasibility, marketing and on-line direct marketing web site plans);
changes in educational programming to integrate knowledge of feasibility, marketing and on-line direct marketing web site plans;
confidence in discussing a wide range of sustainable business ideas with producers as they develop feasibility, marketing and on-line direct marketing web site plans;
confidence in discussing in-depth sustainable business concepts as it relates to the development of feasibility, marketing or on-line direct marketing web site plans
quality of the business advice or suggestion as it relates to the development of feasibility, marketing or on-line direct marketing web site plans;
the number of peers that are consulted on issues relating to sustainable agriculture feasibility, marketing and on-line direct marketing plans.
In addition to the quantitative data, qualitative data in the form of on-line focus groups interviews will be conducted at the end of the grant period during the late fall of 2011. It is anticipated that themes for both the self-reflection (e.g. “What helped me improve my ability to work with sustainable new businesses?”) and actual actions with potential new entrepreneurs (e.g. “What resources or techniques worked best with this clientele group?”) will emerge. A select group of participants will be asked to participate in the focus groups using Adobe Acrobat technology. Ultimately the themes will evolve into a set of “improved practices” for the target audience and for the participating institutions as they work to build human capacity in this area.
From both the qualitative and quantitative data, an evaluative case study will emerge. It is hoped this over-arching case study will prove valuable for individual educators as well as agricultural institutions as they work with sustainable agri-entrepreneurs.
- one of the three planned trainings, “Building Feasibility” ;
the development of the website toolbox and started populating the toolbox with marketing and partner resources. Go to http://nesare.unl.edu/agrimarketing for details.
a telephone interview with approximately two-thirds of the participants to look at process performance targets in an effort to get their feedback on the program format, content and delivery.
Fifty-three participants registered for the entire three training Agri-Marketing series. Approximately 45 attended the first session on “Building Feasibility”. Of the 53 registered, 23 had connections with the University of Nebraska (via Extension or the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture), 9 were from other states with affiliations with Cooperative Extension (Iowa, South Dakota and North Dakota), 7 were from USDA Resource Conservation and Development Councils in Nebraska, 2 were from USDA Rural Development offices within the state, and 12 were from various state and non-profits providers including the Center for Rural Affairs, Nebraska Public Power, Nebraska Food Cooperative, Antelope County Resource Center, Nebraska Enterprise Fund, and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development – Division of Tourism. The diversity of public providers is seen as a real asset to the program and is a significant recruiting accomplishment
After exploring several options it was decided to attach the agri-marketing site to the current Nebraska SARE website to enhance future use and to help make the site a “one-stop” shop for sustainable entrepreneurs and service providers. Key areas of the site include:
- Discussion Board
Media Resources – 21 resources listed
Professional Resources – 39 links listed
Agri Marketing Resources – 33 links listed
Programs/Organizations – 44 links listed
Currently the discussion board has been used by a few of the participants. It is hoped that as the webinars in 2011 are conducted, the increase in questions and use will go up.
When the proposal was developed it was unclear how the toolbox site would be developed (e.g. as a stand alone site or as a part of an existing website) so estimating the cost of development was difficult. The option selected resulted in minimal set up costs so dollars, initially allocated to the development of the website, were shifted to providing website content. Using student interns on a contractual basis, the site now has links to over 137 resources. It also includes some local Nebraska video segments with sustainable agricultural producers talking about their opportunities and challenges in identifying and expanding their niche markets. As a tool the website is seen as one mechanism to help the providers continue their contact and institutional networking.
Interviews were conducted with participant in December of 2010 and in January 2011 to get some feedback on the program and to see where the program may need to be fine-tuned to meet participant expectations. A series of seven questions were asked of approximately 30 participants. General themes included:
- Participants were using the information in a variety of ways (examples: in high tunnel workshops, in conjunction with a local foods/food safety workshop, as presentations at two statewide conferences – NE Women in Ag and NE Agri-Tourism Conference, incorporating the information into publications, and with local entrepreneurs one-on-one)
Key learnings included ways to data mine for market information/trends and basic questions to use in the self-assessment process.
They appreciated knowing that other providers were out there like they were… somewhat hesitant in giving feasibility suggestions. They also were excited about the upcoming topics and the ability to interact with others during the sessions.
Challenges included a couple of program implementation details (they needed a reminder about where the toolbox was located and the November training date). One issue that did surface was the challenge in identifying an entrepreneur early to work with during this training process. Approximately half of those interviewed had to make other plans because the entrepreneur changed their plans… some decided not to pursue the idea further, there were health and employment issues stopping the process, financing changed, partnerships dissolved, etc. Participants were working to find other entrepreneurs to work with as well as being creative in other ways to use the information in the short-term (many of them were developing programs or materials to reach groups of people contemplating the start of a business).
There was wide variation in the intensity of participant use of the information. One person interviewed was still searching for an initial entrepreneur to work with during the training program to one participant who was working with up to 35 entrepreneurs in various stages of business development.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
With only one of the three trainings completed, it is difficult to make any definitive conclusions on impacts and outcomes. From the initial telephone interviews it would seem that participants are finding many different ways to incorporate the training material into their work with agri-entrepreneurs (see above).
From the first training, “Building Feasibility” we can show significant increases in awareness, knowledge, motivation, confidence and potential skill through participant self-assessments. Baseline data on overall confidence and self-assessment of skills was also collected during the first training as a pre-test and will be assessed again at the conclusion of the three-part program.
Attached below are graphic representations of the participant demographics, change, before the session and after the session in key areas.
CARI Special Projects Coordinator
Center for Applied Rural Innovaton
103 Miller Hall – East Campus, Rm 103C
Lincoln, NE 68583
Office Phone: 4024721724
NE Coop Development Center
11854 730 Rd
Holdredge, NE 68949
Office Phone: 3089953889
Cheyenne County Extension Office
920 Jackson St, PO Box 356
Sidney, NE 69162
Office Phone: 3082544455