‘Mouse’ has new meaning for farmers

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LONDON, Ohio – Spring-loaded traps, poisoned bait and even sticky boards can’t catch all the mice that wreak havoc on crops and farm produce each year.

Yet it’s a growing trend to bring a mouse into the barn office or farm shop – a different mouse that helps farmers capitalize on what they’ve got to offer the world.

Currently, about 6 percent of farms nationwide use a mouse, keyboard, computer and the Internet to take their crops and wares off the farm, according to Stan Ernst, program manager for Ohio State’s department of agricultural economics.

Closer to home, about 5 percent of Ohio farms are marketing online, he said.

No surprises. The boom in online marketing of farm produce and the entire farm experience comes as no surprise, as more Americans yearn for the rural lifestyle, according to Curt Haugtvedt, a farm boy turned Ohio State University consumer psychologist, during a workshop at this year’s Farm Science Review.

According to consumer research, some 63 percent of Americans use the Internet to research products and services they are interested in purchasing, a move that gives real justification for farmers to spend extra time breaking into Internet markets.

“We’ve even found a large number of retired folks subscribing to online services, in addition to the younger generations. There’s no limit to who you can reach,” Haugtvedt said.

“Public libraries have Internet access, so virtually everyone has access to the Internet,” he said.

Real proof. Haugtvedt himself has proof Internet marketing works – he needed a tractor.

The problem was that local dealers’ quotes were higher than what he wanted to pay, and there were no other farmers near his North Dakota farm looking to sell a machine like he wanted.

With a few mouse clicks and phone calls, Haugtvedt was the proud owner of in Iseki mid-size tractor.

It doesn’t bother him that the tractor is covered in Japanese lettering. It doesn’t bother him that the paint is blue.

His Iseki looks a lot like the green-painted model he shopped around for, but has far fewer hours and, surprisingly, a smaller price tag than the other models he could have chosen.

Haugtvedt’s online search also turned up other useful sites for farm and tractor enthusiasts, sites that will come in handy in finding replacement parts for his foreign tractor, as well as parts for antique or rare models.

“It just shows, no matter what you’re selling, get the word out. You’ll never know who might be looking,” he said.

Don’t click yet. Before deciding to take an operation online, there are many considerations that should be examined, Haugtvedt said.

“Think about what you’re trying to sell. Obviously it doesn’t make a lot of sense to sell fruits and vegetables online, because they’re shipping prohibited,” he said.

However, the Internet can be used as a way to get the word out about what you’ve got, when you’ll have it, and other pertinent information for consumers.

A Web page is a great tool to let the public know what varieties of produce you’ve got, and an opportunity to show pictures of the growing and harvesting process, he said.

Haugtvedt also recommended that farm operators view farm Web pages and links as an extension of the farm’s store or market.

When consumers visit you in-store, ask for their e-mail address, Haugtvedt recommended.

“That way, you can send reminders saying that you’re selling crop ‘x’ this weekend or next month we’ll have a sale on tires or twine. Really look at this as a way of developing a long-term relationship with your buyers,” he said.

Food source. The Internet can also work in producers’ favors by allowing them to post photos of their operation and crops in the fields, a growing trend as consumers become more interested in where their food comes from.

Online market pages can also be used to market non-perishables, such as crafts and decorations, or tractor parts and accessories.

“It’s easy to take orders for those things online. Then you can just box it and ship it away,” he said.

Creating a home on the Web is also great public relations for the agricultural industry, Haugtvedt said.

Travel and tourism. Looking into the future, he sees room for creation of an overall directory of farm markets in an area or state.

In turn, that directory can be tied to travel and tourism sites – a move that will increase traffic with little to no physical work by the farm owner.

Areas he particularly sees as hot spots of interest include tying operations into historical tours, bed and breakfast sites and special events for Ohio’s bicentennial.

“Consumers really appreciate the unexpected. People like the chance to find that unique winery they might not have otherwise known of. The Net makes searches for all this possible,” he said.

“The most critical component is making that connection with the consumer. In the end, it can be reasonably profitable and something enjoyable for your farm,” he said.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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