Understanding and Improving E-Commerce Use by Small Farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2004: $85,317.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Cheryl Brown
West Virginia University

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, networking, technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture, marketing management, market study, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities

    Proposal abstract:

    Abstract – Understanding and Improving E-commerce Use by Small Farms

    This project will use an online survey to conduct research gathering and analyzing information from farm businesses currently marketing over the Internet in the Northeast. Project participants with specific technical expertise will make improvements to the WV Specialty Products web page in order to provide a consumer friendly Internet directory of agricultural businesses in West Virginia, which does not currently exist as it does in most states in the Northeast. We will present the research findings and provide training for 160 agricultural businesspeople who will attend 1 of 4 workshops on e-commerce development held throughout West Virginia. In order to expand the directory of WV products the workshops will provide an opportunity for at least 150 agricultural businesspeople to sign up for the WV Specialty Products web site. Workshop training will also include methods for evaluating the value of Internet marketing, and we will follow up with workshop attendees to determine if 60 agricultural businesses have increased sales of 10-15% after 1 year of listing on the WV Specialty Products web site along with improved customer satisfaction. The workshops will present information gathered from experienced online marketers and provide professional advice on web page creation to encourage 40 farm businesses to develop a web page for their business. We will maintain contact with workshop participants to determine how many have created web pages and encourage them to do so. A follow up survey with workshop attendees will determine if 30 agricultural businesses which created web pages have increased sales by 5-10% within 1 year of implementation. For those who begin to sell over the web during that year, we will compare online sales to non-Internet sales to determine if income has increased.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Performance Target – Understanding and Improving E-commerce Use by Small Farms

    Of the 160 agricultural businesspeople who attend workshops on e-commerce development, 150 (95%) will sign up for the West Virginia Specialty Products web site. Sixty (40%) of these businesses will have increased sales of 10-15% after 1 year of listing along with improved customer satisfaction. Forty (25%) of the 160 attendees will develop a web page for their business, and 75% of these (30) will increase sales by 5-10% within 1 year of implementation.
    This project will help advance the goals in the Northeast SARE outcome statement that agriculture in the region will be “profitable” and “conducted by farmers who manage resources wisely and who are satisfied with their lifestyles.” By helping agricultural businesses develop this relatively new advertising medium this project will help them increase sales and improve profitability. Because the research part of this project will discover the best ways for agricultural businesses to use the web for advertising and selling, it will help new Internet users avoid some of the mistakes made by innovators in this arena. This should help farmers manage wisely one of their most valuable resources, their time, and thus help them to be more “satisfied with their lifestyles.”
    We hypothesize that most farm businesses that develop web pages will use them as advertising for their operation. These business owners will analyze the value of the web page (and other advertising media) by tracking how customers hear about the business. In addition, operators will record sales to those web-using customers. We will survey these businesses after 1 year of listing on the web in order to determine the percentage increase in sales as well as their overall satisfaction with web-based advertising. We project that only a small number of farm-based businesses will actually begin to sell products over the Internet during this first year of web site listing. We will also contact these businesses to evaluate their experience with Internet sales.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.