By Keena Lykins
Build relationships with landowners through a top-notch farm website.
Young producers seeking a competitive edge in gaining and keeping land-rent contracts are adopting a proven technique from the business world: branding.
Most farm websites are designed to educate or sell products to consumers; business-to-business websites are still relatively new. But Rachel Cutrer, president and print creative director of Ranch House Designs Inc., in Wharton, Texas, says her firm has seen a marked increase in producer websites during the past two years.
"In 2005, we created 16 new websites," Cutrer says. "In 2008, that number increased to 82. In 2010, we put up 123 new websites for farmers and ranchers."
Most of her customers are multigenerational operations that have tasked the younger generation with being the primary contact for the website, Cutrer says. Most spend between $400 and $1,000 a year for design and upkeep of their website.
"For example, maybe the farm owner gets his college-age daughter to work with us on sending in pictures or text for the site," she says. "We also work with a number of farm and ranch wives."
Build a Brand for Your Operation
Brent Johnson, 32, of Ashland, Ill., uses a website to build a business identity for his family’s farming operation and to keep Johnson Family Farms top-of-mind with current and potential landlords.
"Basically, we’re building a brand of who we are," Johnson says. "We use the website to position ourselves with potential landlords and business associates. It gives them a more professional view of our operation."
The website, designed and updated by Ranch House Designs Inc., of Wharton, Texas, takes a 30,000-ft. view of the operation, which farms more than 3,500 acres in central Illinois.
Johnson says he drew on his own experience as well as his wife’s marketing expertise when designing the website almost three years ago. The Johnson Family Farms website consists of a blog, field notes and photos, contact information and a list of the operation’s six key competencies: technology, experience, location, relationships, land stewardship and entrepreneurial spirit.
Because of the high cost of land, cash-renting is how many young growers acquire land, Johnson says. While sometimes this still involves neighbors renting to neighbors based on an individual relationship, he says, "80% to 85% of land movement in our area" comes down to a bidding process. Branding his family’s operation is one way to stay competitive.
In 2010, reported cash rents in Illinois averaged $169 per acre but varied widely by location, according to the Farm Business Management Report, issued by the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. The highest rent was $242 per acre in Macon County and the lowest was $72 in Pope County.
"Rarely will we be the highest cash-rent-per-acre bid, but we’re the people who are going to mow and trim your roadsides and keep your farm looking good," Johnson says. "You’re going to be proud of your farm."
Keep Landowners and Farm Managers Informed
Dave Nelson, 35, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, launched a website for his farming operation this past November.
He says the Nelson Family Farms site is an integral part of his family’s marketing plan. In addition to offering the basics, such as contact information and a photo gallery, the site will soon include an overview of strip-till farming, which is the predominant tillage method the Nelsons use, and a password-protected section for landowners and farm managers to help them keep up with details concerning their land.
- Summer 2011