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 was 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 was 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 was originally planned to 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.
Outside Changes Affecting the Plan –
During 2011 several unplanned organizational events with our public partners did impact the project. The USDA Resource and Conservation and Development programs nationwide were disbanded, and Iowa State University and South Dakota State University had substantial reorganizations within their Extension Service. Participants that had originally been enrolled in the program were no longer a part of it so changes were made to adapt to this new situation. One of the major changes included creating a new method to evaluate the project because the follow-up evaluative case study was no longer realistic.
These changes also seemed to have other effects on the impact targets that were identified. The reprioritization of Extension affected the commitment of some of the current participants to this particular project, especially when it came to the on-going effort to work with an entrepreneur during the project. Initially each participant had identified an entrepreneur to work with during the project. During 2010, early in the project, several of the participants noted that their entrepreneur was no longer wanting to work on this project due to a variety of reasons (health, market change, family change, etc) so it became a challenge to find another person mid-stream for several of the participants, especially after the reorganization. Other participants found that the information was not timed quite right for immediate application to their entrepreneur so application was hindered. Other roadblocks seemed to come up for participants including the general need to reprioritize their workload due to the Extension reorganization.
Realizing this fact, project impacts were still documented as part of the process, however the impacts that had been initially planned for the project have now been modified to fit the new reality.
The project had both process and impact performance targets.
Process target indicators were:
• 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 participant’s mid-way through the project.
Impact targets are divided into both short-term and intermediate-term. A pre and post survey was the cornerstone of the impact assessment. Indicators closely follow the proposed logic model and they included:
• 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 participants 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 participants take sustainable agricultural ideas into the marketplace;
• the level of confidence in working with producers as participants take sustainable agricultural ideas into the marketplace;
• the level of skill in working with producers as participants 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.
3) End of program case study, “Guidelines for Improved Practice ”
In addition to the quantitative data, qualitative data in the form of on-line focus groups interviews/comments were initially planned at the end of the grant period during the late fall of 2011. This process was modified and the use of a website discussion board/blog was substituted as a form of communication for the group. The blog was established in the winter 2010 and spring of 2011 and several times questions and comments were posted but the group never fully used the technology as a tool. It was hoped that the blog, housed on the Nebraska SARE website, would spark comments in areas such as 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?”) would emerge. To compensate for the low participation on the blog, a select group of participants were asked for their input on “lessons learned” so that a list of initial “promising practices” for the target audience and for the participating institutions could be composed as they work to build human capacity in this area.
During 2011, the project completed:
• four webinars following the “Building Feasibility” session were held to reinforce the initial session – average attendance was approximately 18 participants
• two of the three planned trainings, “AgriMarketing Concepts” with approximately 40 participants in attendance and “Direct Marketing of Speciality Food Products” with approximately 28 participants
• “Direct Marketing of Speciality Food Products” was developed with University of Nebraska and North Dakota State University expertise. Rather than use a traditional presentation, the material was developed using a web-based interactive magazine-like format for increased user interaction and broader audience exposure in the future. Go to: http://go.unl.edu/directmarketingfood.
• key video interviews with entrepreneurs were added to the website toolbox so participants can access them as they work with ag-entrepreneurs. Go to http://nesare.unl.edu/agrimarketing for details.
• A summary of selected participants “lessons learned” to build upon for future trainings
• An annual and final project report
Webinars following the “Building Feasibility” session – University of Wisconsin faculty presented additional information that was customized to the needs of the audience. Topics highlighted several hands-on ways to access meaningful Census data for specific feasibility studies and interviews/discussions with entrepreneurs about their trials and tribulations with local and national market development.
AgriMarketing Concepts – was presented by Jane Eckert, with Eckert AgriMarketing, focused on several key learning objectives: 1) understanding the key components in assessing a farm’s current business in terms of its future potential for agritourism; 2) recognizing the difference in pricing the ag-experience versus a farm commodity; 3) recognizing the ability to adequately assess the key components of an effective website; 4) increasing confidence in recommending low cost marketing promotion solutions for the ag entrepreneur; and 5) increasing the participants ability to assist the farm in making overall marketing recommendations for their new or existing venture.
Direct Marketing of Speciality Food Products – was presented by Glenn Muskie, North Dakota State University Extension Specialist, and University of Nebraska Extension Educators Connie Hancock, Jenny Nixon and Jay Jenkins. Learning objectives included: 1) developing greater awareness of the role information technology plays in developing a online business marketing strategy and/or sales; 2) encouraging the development of comprehensive proactive marketing planning; 3) sharing examples of how online tools can be used and adopted (Interviews with business owners using the tools will provide exposure to options for using Internet technology in the food retailing business including the positives and the negative as well as implementation ideas); and 4) awareness of existing resources so that the one’s on-line presence can be managed easier.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In 2011 two of the three trainings were completed. Before and after each training session the participants indicated their awareness, knowledge, motivation, confidence and potential skills that were targeted for each learning objective using Turning Point, a computer software survey system. In each area increases were noted following the session. Listed below are the pre and post results for each learning objective in the two sessions conducted during 2011.
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