June 4, 2020

How COVID-19 is changing farmer communication—and how businesses can adapt

By Matt Weeks

In the midst of the ongoing global pandemic, AgIntel™ by AdFarm took a deep dive into new market research and data exploring the current and future impacts on agricultural businesses and producers. Our goal was to understand the challenges facing the industry and opportunities to pivot and adapt to new ways of doing business.

We will be showcasing what we learned in a three-part blog series in the coming weeks, starting with part one below. In this post, we explore the evolving communication needs of producers during and following COVID-19, and how agribusinesses can get ahead by making smart pivots now.

Business as usual? Not quite.

It should be no surprise that North American farmers are adapting quickly to a new market reality (as they always do), and suppliers are adapting with them, but more can be done to better meet their needs.

Our research found that 42% of farmers said they have already been impacted “a great deal,” and 80% indicated that they have been impacted either “a great deal” or “a moderate amount” by the virus. More importantly, 58% expect their business to be affected a great deal in the future. With concerns about market losses, payments, labor, logistics and availability of inputs, farmers are looking to suppliers and partners to adapt their businesses as well.

Among the most common ways that farmers are looking for assistance from suppliers are by reducing price, being flexible and providing open communication. Flexibility for farmers can include options for payment terms and timing of pick-up/delivery, as well as the ability to communicate clearly in the farmers’ preferred channels.

We also found that 75% of producers cited that even under the circumstances, their interactions with product and service providers have been normal without a high level of interruption. With more than half of farmers surveyed expecting the impacts from COVID-19 to get worse in the future, farmers need clear, consistent communicaton—on their terms.

Communication is evolving

In an industry rooted in face-to-face interaction, adjusting communication methods is a new challenge. From our survey, over 85% of farmers responded that phone calls were the most helpful to connect with suppliers and business partners. Among all communication options, here is what producers told us are the most helpful –

Phone calls – 85%

Texting – 58%

Email – 50%

Website – 15%

As agribusinesses move forward, it will be important to have a digital front and ways to incorporate digital and social technology into their business. This was important before the impact of coronavirus, and will be even more important after.In fact, the McKinsey & Co. study from 2019 “Cultivating the Omnichannel Farmer” identified opportunities for companies to engage deeper with producers—and this has never been more true, or more important than today. From McKinsey & Co.: “Agriculture companies need to deeply understand high-value buyers and their decision-journey preferences and prioritize the stages that matter. Tech-focused growers’ wants and needs will vary significantly from those of small growers. Providers then need to set a clear aspiration for what they’re trying to accomplish with each buyer segment, be it growing the base, driving retention, or breaking into a market they’ve had a hard time attracting. Homing in on what matters requires road-testing ideas with actual customers and spending time in the field. Ag companies can then act on those insights using rapid test-and-learn practices to find out where digital enablement and human engagement can have the biggest impact.”

Producers are anticipating a move to more digital channels to gather information—so your experiences had better keep up. In a recent Farm Market iD survey, 56% of farmers surveyed said they are much more likely to do business with vendors either digitally or through some form of e-commerce. Even before this pandemic, more and more farmers were turning to the web to gather information when making purchasing decisions. 55% of the farmers we polled indicated that COVID-19 will change the way they collect information, with more turning to digital channels. Among the sentiments they expressed—“More web-based, less in person,” “more webinars and getting information digitally,” and “will push more information gathering to digital.”

For companies, having the information that farmers need, when they need it, will be vital as the industry moves forward and digital trends continue past COVID-19.

Moving forward, together

Even though we’re in challenging times, the agricultural industry will push on and adapt to the changes and challenges this virus brings. Farmers and ranchers are continuing their spring work (and have been getting their spring crop in the ground well ahead of schedule in places) and agribusinesses are finding ways to service their customers’ needs.

In this three-part blog series, we will be highlighting more of the results we found in our research and giving you in-depth insights on the different opportunities for agribusinesses moving forward. Part two of the series will detail areas of concern and opportunities for growth as the result of this pandemic, and part three will focus on the communication channels that have been elevated from “nice to have” to “must use” status.

Matt Weeks is a Strategic Lead at AdFarm. An agronomist by education, Matt is now helping to drive insights for clients through our AgIntel initiative.