Food producers 'find and get found' on new national online network

Nothing says agricultural marketing like four iPads and a wireless router, but that's how it's being done with the PA MarketMaker program this year at Penn State's Ag Progress Days, Aug. 17 to 19. The center aisle of Dairy and Livestock Tent #2 on West 12th Street will be going high-tech this year as ag economists debut a new interactive database to help food producers across the nation network with one another online.

Designed as a business-to-business tool, PA MarketMaker, found online at http://national.marketmaker.uiuc.edu/, is crafted to connect buyers and sellers in the food industry, from farm production to retail. For instance, farmers can find markets through retailers, restaurants, specialty shops, processors or wholesalers looking to purchase directly from farms.

"The tool provides access to free, in-depth marketing information to help farm and food business owners find markets for their products throughout Pennsylvania and other participating states," said Jeff Hyde, associate professor of agricultural economics in the College of Agricultural Sciences. "It also helps businesses that wish to buy locally produced foods."

Hyde said the program presently is working to populate the database with information about local farms, and he plans to use the wireless touchpads to drum up more interest and conduct instant registration with visitors at Ag Progress Days.

The Food Industry MarketMaker tool was developed by the University of Illinois, which has been very responsive to improving its features, Hyde said. The database incorporates Google Maps.

"I think one of the things that it brings that isn't readily available -- particularly to smaller businesses -- is the market research capabilities," he said. "In the map-based interface, you can learn the demographics of customers and say, 'Here's a group of homes in this neighborhood that have this income, this educational level, which are indicative of a target market,' and conduct your own market research."

"Anyone can have a presence at a low cost," he explained. "It's free once you have access to the Internet and a computer, so it's pretty easy to get involved."

He added that Illinois has been actively pursuing national restaurant associations to help cultivate the demand for fresh produce. "There are some very large retailers interested in MarketMaker," he said. "They want to position themselves as more green, more local."

Pennsylvania is one of 16 member states in the national MarketMaker system. The PA MarketMaker site is slated to go live in mid-August, and its link will incorporate the full capabilities of the newest version of the system.

One of the new features is the "What's in Season?" guide, which lists sellers and locations for particular crops, whether those are tomato varieties or fresh batches of sweet corn. The sweet corn page, according to Hyde, will list numerous sweet corn sellers and their locations, and searches can be further refined by geography, variety, price or any other characteristic.

Another new feature is the "Taste of the State" section, which highlights products unique to a given state. For example, a business such as Tait Farm in Centre County, Pennsylvania could list its processed shrub product and gain fairly large exposure, Hyde said.

He also suggested that businesses such as Kessler's Inc. of Lemoyne could list its Nittany Lion Franks, or Herlocher's of State College, Pa., could list its dipping mustard. This not only would promote a Pennsylvania food company outside of its traditional production area, but it also would promote the entire food industry in the state, which can benefit everyone, Hyde said.

Sponsored by the College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State's Ag Progress Days is held at the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center at Rock Springs, nine miles southwest of State College on Route 45. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Aug. 17; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 18; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Aug. 19. Admission and parking are free. For more information, visit the Ag Progress Days Web site at http://apd.psu.edu.

Twitter users can find and share information about the event by using the hashtag #agprogress.

 

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Last Updated August 16, 2010