Customer Identification and Communication Education for Scale Specific Commodities

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2011: $14,986.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Laura Biasillo
Development Specialist

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (other), berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, carrots, cucurbits, onions, peppers, sweet corn, tomatoes
  • Animals: bees, bovine, poultry, sheep, swine


  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: e-commerce, market study, marketing management

    Proposal abstract:

    New farmers, small scale operations and niche products are the growth areas for Broome County agriculture. Most of these are direct marketers, yet they lack knowledge about their current and target customers, and lack tools to gather important information to enable them to reach, retain and grow their customer base. Many direct marketing operations do not possess a marketing plan, nor easy to implement customer identification and communication mechanisms that are scale and commodity specific. There is little research or information available to them regarding which marketing methods work best for their operation types and locations. Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County proposes a multi-layered approach to address these needs. Seven farmers/agri-business owners representing a wide diversity of direct marketing locations (farm stand/store, farmers’ markets, restaurant, website sales, etc.), have agreed to serve as Collaborating Farmers. The 16 month project involves pre and post assessments of the farmer’ knowledge and attitudes related to customers and marketing, at least 60 customer intercept interviews per farm, pre and post education and trials, reviews and updates of business plans, development of tailored customer tracking and communications mechanisms, and collection of data to assess achievement of project goals related to increases in numbers of customers, increased repeat customer sales and increased revenue from sales.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Activities/Data Collection Methods:
    • Cooperating Farmers’ Pre and Post Assessments, conducted on farm
    • Completion of at least 60 Customer Intercept Surveys per farm (an average of 30 pre and 30 post), conducted at the direct marketers place of business, weather bricks & mortar, farm stand or farmers’
    • Completion of Marketing Plan reviews/updates or creation of a Marketing Plan where none exists, for at least five of the seven operations Cooperating Farmers Pre- and Post Assessments, approximately 12-14 months apart, will measure:
    1. Level of Knowledge/Understanding of customer base (existing & potential) for their individual and commodity enterprise
    2. Level of Knowledge/Understanding of various marketing methods available for reaching existing and potential customer base
    3. Assessment of existing marketing plan
    4. Assessment of the effectiveness of current customer tracking and communication mechanisms

    Customer Intercept Interviews will gather information, at the beginning of the project and again near the end of the 16 month period. Interviews will be conducted by the Project Coordinator at the farm sales locations and will gather information on:
    • how often the customer shops with that particular vendor
    • whether they tell others about this operation/their products
    • how they get their information about direct market products and vendors
    • their perceptions of customer newsletters, frequent shopper programs, and social media as a marketing mechanism

    Survey Response Verbal Scales
    To create user friendly surveys and insure that Collaborating Farmers completing the Pre and Post Assessments, and Customers responding to the Intercept Interview questions understand the response
    choices, verbal scales will be utilized as much as possible on both instruments. For every multiple choice question, three to four descriptive word responses will be offered, representing a scale orcontinuum.

    An example of choices offered to indicate level of Knowledge on a topic might offer:

    An example of choices offered to indicate Attitude about the severity of a problem might offer:

    An example of a scale to indicate Usefulness of a mechanism or training was, might offer:

    Many other scales are available.

    In addition, some open-ended questions will allow Collaborating Farmers and Customers to add detail to their input. Marketing Plan Reviews will follow standard, recognized categories and components, as taught in small business development and Beginning Farmer workshops.

    Interpretation of results will be based on data tallied from Pre and Post Assessments, Customer Intercept Interviews (Pre and Post) and Marketing Plan Reviews. Open ended question responses will also clarify issues, perspectives and barriers to implementation or successful outcomes. Video footage on farms/location will provide additional material for review and discussions.Charts, graphs and narrative presentations of lessons learned, survey responses and trial mechanism outcomes and impact will be included in the final program report, and in handouts and resources shared back with Collaborating Farmers, with extension Educators and others, at workshops, meetings, conferences and via media and the display.

    Dissemination of project reports, materials developed, and outcomes will be through a variety of methods, and targeted to reach/teach direct marketers, Extension educators and other agricultural producers. Some of the presentations and publications will happen after the end of the grant project in September 2012. Cooperating Farmers may co-present, serve on panels and/or as mentors to new farmers and direct marketers struggling with these issues and needs.
    • Conference /in-service workshop presentation proposals will be submitted. Examples of appropriate venues include the Strategic Marketing Conference, Cornell Ag In-Service, NOFA-NY, and the Fruit & Vegetable Expo. Offerings will depend in part on timing within the project period and funding to participate.
    • Articles will be prepared and submitted/published in newsletters to producers; Smart Marketing publication through Cornell University; Small Farms Quarterly (published by the Cornell University Small Farms Program), Country Folks, Lancaster Farming & other agricultural publications
    • Through integration of information, resources and video into future local and state Beginning Farmer courses and workshops, and consultations with new farmers
    • Through development, printing and dissemination of tracking and communication materials (hard copy and electronically) specific to commodities and business type
    • Through a portable educational display and brochures, research reports and handouts
    • Media outreach will include the local print news, radio and television based educational opportunities, and inclusion of video footage, as appropriate.

    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.