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CHANGED BUYING HABITS: Online buying is changing how customers think about all parts of their lives, including how they buy food. Farmers are disrupting how they buy things, too. It’s a fast-evolving world.

Agriculture and the disrupted customer

Another Voice: A changing retail environment is altering a lot of your life.

Living inside a revolution is interesting, for sure. We’re all part of a future history where those who come after us will look back to try to decipher what was really going on — and no, I’m not talking about politics.

The change in the relationship between consumer and producer has been blown up, and that’s got everyone scrambling. I think the first inkling I got of that change was when Amazon’s market value topped Barnes & Noble. At the time, Amazon basically sold books and movies and was just branching into other areas. How could a digital-only company be worth more than a venerable retailer with a lot of real estate tied up in physical stores? Boy, was I uninformed.

That was a long time ago, and today, the world of buying and selling things has changed, even on the farm. I’m guessing that after years of not being able to find your place, UPS and FedEx know where you are now — for ag parts, but also for the everyday stuff of life, from pet food to gadgets you order from Amazon or elsewhere.

This same idea is changing how companies that in the past didn’t have to think about how they sold are now evaluating their businesses. In this article, I note Caterpillar’s big push into revamping retail to capture more of the one- and two-machine customers. They’re even looking at online equipment sales, delivered at the dealership.

You are changing how you buy. WinField United is revamping its retail infrastructure to meet the customer where they need to connect. Perhaps that’s online with questions, and ordering may end up at the dealership. Or the dealer may start the conversation but use the same retail system to lock in the order. All of this is web-based and enhances your flexibility in buying.

The customer is disrupting the process, but actually, there’s nothing new here. The customer has always driven markets, and sellers slow to meet those changes go out of business — that’s what we call capitalism.

Customers and farmers

Except for the specialty producers reading this column, many farmers raising commodities don’t really have a customer to think about except the first buyer. Many times, that’s the elevator that takes delivery of the wheat, corn or even soybeans you may be raising. If the load is clean, the buyer takes it.

That could be changing, because the next buyer of that crop — the one the elevator sells to — is getting concerned about where products originate. How are you raising that crop? What do you spray? What is your plan to avoid nutrient runoff?

For the first time, all farmers will have to think about customers farther downstream than in the past. Products like Field-to-Market can help you develop information for your operation that can be shared to potential customers, showing how the practices you use are environmentally aware, and work to manage runoff and boost soil health.

Why? Because Walmart, Target, Kroger and other major buyers of what eventually becomes food — from corn and wheat into finished products (and I know field corn often ends up in cattle) — need to understand your farm’s environmental footprint. Your work to better manage that information and tell your story will make a difference.

So, the disrupted customer can be you at buying time, or Walmart or some other big buyer at selling time. Either way, the sales transaction is undergoing major changes. And it’s something to think about early, so you’re prepared and in control of the change versus having it thrust upon you.

Got a comment or reaction? Email willie.vogt@farmprogress.com.

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