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Published March 18, 2013, 10:51 AM

Getting the info

Survey summarizes how farmers stay informed.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — Often, as I talk with farmers and ranchers in Agweek country, I ask them about their sources of information. I think it’s their most vital farming input other than land.

Farmers have both their traditional and emerging sources of information. The time-tested sources are ag-related publications, broadcasts, meetings and conferences. There also is a whole new array of digital sources — often offered by or repackaging traditional news sources.

Farmers are busy and are increasingly using smartphones to sort it all out. It is getting more difficult to grab the attention of farmers as they get bigger and busier.

The U.S Census of Agriculture in 2007 said the average age of farmers was 57.1. It’s also significant that on today’s bigger farms, about a third say they have at least three decision makers, but that the vast majority were still in their 50s and 40s. It’s important to think about how different generations acquire and learn information.

Recently, I looked at a survey, conducted by the American Association of Business Information Companies. Agweek isn’t a member of this group, but many publications like us are. The group’s Agri Council is co-chaired by Tom Taylor, publisher of the High Plains Journal in Dodge City, Kan. The survey was mailed in late 2011 and early 2012 to 3,700 names provided by Agri Council members. Of the 1,200 that were returned, about 1,062 identified themselves as farm owners, operators or managers.

Among the publicly available summary highlights:

•Digital communications are playing bigger roles and will get bigger.

•Agricultural magazines and newspapers continue to be a dominant information source for business-to-business markets, and respondents expect that to remain unchanged or increase in the next three or four years.

•Retailers are the second most important source to validate and inform purchase decisions.

•Larger farms are more actively engaged with all media channels.

One question in the survey was “How often do you read, view, visit, attend or use the following types of agricultural media or information sources?”

Responses were: ag magazines and newspapers (82 percent), general daily newspapers (73 percent), ag newsletters (47 percent), ag radio programs (41 percent), ag television programs (37 percent), ag e-newsletters (30 percent), ag dealers and retailers (22 percent) and ag manufacturers and suppliers (20 percent). None had changed much from a 2010 survey.

Only one category — ag websites — showed a statistically significant change, increasing to 40 percent from the 35 percent category.

Curiously, the respondants in the survey did not vary significantly by age. All of the responses for magazine use were more than 80 percent for ages 45 and lower, 45 to 64, and 65 and over. Digital use was most common for ages 45 and younger (72 percent, at least weekly) compared with ages 45 to 64 (59 percent) and over 65 (35 percent).

I thought it was interesting 74 percent said they were more likely to receive information about new ag products and services from ag magazines and newspapers. The other top sources for this kind of information were ag dealers and retailers (43 percent) and farm shows (11 percent). Significantly, 65 percent said they would likely continue to use traditional and digital media for help in running their farms and ranches.

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