DES MOINES, Iowa -- Fading are the days when farmers catch weather updates on the tractor radio or read the latest on markets in a monthly magazine. Farmers now have access to radar that shows them where the rain is falling and price information specific to their county.
Some have even started marketing their crops online.
''Only until recently farmers had little reason to go to the Internet other than for information,'' said Dave Abbott, president and chief executive officer of E-Markets. ''If farmers have more compelling reasons to go online, you'll see the interest grow higher.''
Ames-based E-Markets offers elevators an Internet application called Decision Rules for Contracts that allow forward marketing and pricing of commodities. A farmer can choose from several marketing options. For example, he can promise to deliver 10,000 bushels of corn in 100 days for the average price over that period.
''Instead of picking a day to sell or responding to a banker who says he needs a bank payment or loan payment today, this helps farmers become more disciplined,'' he said.
About 250 local elevators offer farmers the program, which costs ''pennies per bushel,'' Abbott said.
The future for online marketing is not corn and soybeans but products that meet changing consumer demands, officials say.
''Consumers are looking for food products that are grown or raised or prepared in certain ways,'' Abbott said. ''That's being communicated back to the farm level.''
The Internet gives farmers a broader audience for their products, said Ron Mortensen, a market adviser in Fort Dodge. Companies willing to pay a premium may ask producers for certain attributes in the commodities.
''With unique value-added products developed into foods or feed, that's where the Internet will play a contracting opportunity,'' said Kip Pendleton, president and chief executive officer of St. Paul, Minn.-based DirectAg.com.
Young farmers seem most likely to take advantage. Eighty-five percent of farmers age 25-45 are online, Pendleton said. That group is responsible for about 43 percent of farm output, he said.
Large grain and cattle buyers tend to have more information than small sellers, but the Internet could change that, said Bruce Babcock, director of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development at Iowa State University.
''That information is out there, but I think more motivated, well-trained farmers will take advantage of it,'' he said.
Up to one-third of Iowa farmers use the Internet daily in some way, Babcock said.
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