Understanding and Improving E-Commerce Use by Small Farms
This project used an online and a mail survey to gather and analyze information from farm businesses currently marketing over the Internet in the Northeast. A web page is in the works to provide a consumer friendly Internet directory of agricultural businesses in West Virginia. This website, WVFarm2U.org, is being created in partnership with the Collaborative for 21st Century Appalachia, a consortium of chefs, farmers, extension personnel, educators and others interested in creating a local food system for West Virginia. This website will be promoted at conferences across the state and region, including at the annual WVU Extension Service’s Market Gardener’s Conference. We will follow up with attendees at this conference who sign up for WVFarm2U to determine if agricultural businesses have increased sales and improved customer satisfaction after being listed on the website. Research findings were presented at the WVU Extension Service’s Market Gardener’s Conference in 2006. Future workshop training will include e-marketing techniques and website development along with methods for evaluating the value of Internet marketing. Materials developed for this workshop will be used by WVU Extension educators in other parts of WV to train farmers on e-marketing. The workshops will also present information gathered from experienced online marketers and encourage farm businesses to develop a website 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 agricultural businesses which created a website have increased sales 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.
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.”
First Milestone: Project coordinator will conduct research gathering and analyzing information from farm businesses currently marketing over the Internet.
The first milestone required developing a database of farm businesses and a survey instrument for gathering information. Letters were mailed to 5,392 farmers from all 13 states in the Northeast asking them to participate in the survey; 987 agreed to participate; 404 surveys were mailed, of which 300 were completed and returned. An Internet link and access code was emailed to 583 individuals with 346 questionnaires completed online. Analysis of the data is ongoing. Results have been presented at the Food Distribution Research Society’s Annual Conference (2005), and the WVU Extension Service’s Market Gardener’s Annual Conference, Northeast Agricultural and Resource Economics Association Annual Conference, and American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Conference (2006).
Second Milestone: CSR and NRAC will make improvements to WV Specialty Products web page.
Problems with the WV Specialty Products web page meant a new home had to be found for the Internet directory of WV farm businesses. A serendipitous meeting with the Collaborative for 21st Century Appalachia has led to a pooling of funds for creation of a website that will exceed our initial plans and expectations. This website, WVFarm2U.org, will be professionally developed using the latest software and will include county-based search capabilities for consumers to find WV farm products. In addition, it will have features for WV farmers to sell their products to chefs and for chefs to search for farm products, as well as online sites for recipes, seed trading, and farmer to farmer information exchange.
Third Milestone: A total of 160 agricultural businesspeople will attend 1 of 4 workshops on e-commerce development held throughout West Virginia.
The first workshop was held February 28, 2006 in Morgantown, WV as part of a “Marketing for Success Conference” sponsored by the West Virginia University (WVU) Extension Service. This session presented the preliminary findings from the survey as well as general e-marketing advice, including a handout containing a list of e-marketing websites and resources. A more extensive workshop is planned for February 27, 2007 in Morgantown as part of the WVU Extension Service’s Market Gardener’s Conference. This workshop will include general information on e-marketing as well as a presentation by a professional website developer. A farmer will share insights on use of a website for e-marketing as well. Materials developed for this workshop will be used by WVU Extension educators in other parts of WV to train farmers on e-marketing in 2007. The ending date for this project has been extended to June 30, 2008. Farmer interest in e-marketing has been slow to develop in West Virginia necessitating more time to encourage farmer attendance at workshops and farm website development.
Fourth Milestone: 150 agricultural businesspeople will sign up for the WV Specialty Products web site.
Problems with development of this website (see second milestone) mean this milestone has not been met, however, the ending date for this project has been extended to June 30, 2008 and the website is now under development and will be heavily promoted in 2007 to achieve this goal.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Basic data from the survey of farm businesses has been assembled and is currently available online at http://www.cafcs.wvu.edu/resm/faculty/Brown/EcommerceSurveyReport.htm as a pdf document http://www.cafcs.wvu.edu/resm/faculty/Brown/SurveyResults.pdf . We are currently analyzing the data to determine which types of farms, farmers, products, etc. are more likely to have adopted a website as part of their marketing strategy as well as to examine the impact of a website and its features on a business’s gross farm sales.