Using Zoomerang, a readership survey was launched via direct e-mail to 279 subscribers. 112 completed the survey for a 40% response rate. Also, agricultural Extension educators, who otherwise were not subscribers, were asked to complete the survey.
84% of the subscribers scan and read full articles, 11% read full articles. 62% indicated that the newsletter was important to very important to their business or job. 94% said that the letter should be published monthly, 95% indicated that the articles were well balanced between technical and practical, and 92% thought the length of the letter was about right. The majority of readers like to read articles concerning new technology, educational activities, tax management and especially highly rated were about improved management and financial articles. Other articles listed were labor management, business management and rental rates.
The respondent breakdown was: 38% educators, 25% farmers, 14% other, 10% agri-business supplier, 6% consultant, 4% lender, 2% tax preparer, and 1% landlord. For the open-ended question “Because of the information provided in this newsletter, I…,” 64 different ideas were listed. Examples include: better prepared to respond to clients needs, develop more practical policy options, more aware of farm management issues, stay apprised of changes in agriculture, am a better farmer, explored other ag opportunities, producing a higher quality local newsletter, and kept current on changing technology. The question as to whether farm businesses or clientele saved money or increased profit, 52% said it was not applicable, however 38% answered yes. For twenty of the subscribers answering yes, a total of $250,000 was saved for an average of $12,000 for each person responding with savings or profit.
Other benefits rating highly include 83% making informed decisions, 31% cost cutting and saved time, 26% improved marketing and improved employee management skills, 24% saved tax dollars and others added value to newsletters and teaching materials, provided well thought out answers, and put a dollar figure on additional fuel charges for custom work. 29% forwarded the newsletter to others, 24 via e-mail to 1767 others or an average of nearly 74 others. Also, 8 send paper copies by mail to 1585 others for a 198 average.
For the farmer subscribers, 46 crop producers reported 21,264 acres of corn, 23,055 acres of soybeans, 2790 acres wheat, over 2200 acres of alfalfa and other forages and pastures, 146 acres of fruit and vegetable crops, and 320 acres from the green industry. The average size of the crop farms reporting was 1085 acres. 25 livestock producers reported the following numbers by head: 793 beef, 275 sheep, 5858 swine, 6 horses, 444 dairy cows, 250 custom heifers, 160 poultry, 300 rabbits and 100 meat goats. Annual gross income from the farmer subscribers were 14% less than $10,000, 25% $10-50,000, 16% $50-100,000, 25% $100-250,000, 9% $250-500,000 and 12% greater than $500,000.
Eight consultants had combined services for 143,000 acres of corn, 170,500 acres soybeans, 53,250 acres wheat, 122,250 acres pasture and forages, 17,550 acres alfalfa, and 2500 acres of fruits and vegetables. Livestock numbers were 32,200 head of beef, 14,450 dairy cows, 6500 custom heifers, 6250 head of swine and 700 sheep.
A cross tabulation analysis revealed that 39 % of the respondents saved money or increased profits. However, 90% of farmers with incomes of over $250,000 indicated savings and increased profits. This group furthermore attributed improved employee management skills as a newsletter benefit at a grater respond rate compared to the group as a whole.
It would appear that the newsletter is a valued service to subscribers and little needs to be changed as to the regularity of distribution, length of the letter or in technical content. The current method of writing this e-mailed newsletter includes monthly conference calls by County Extension Educators-Agriculture, State Specialists in Agricultural Economics and the Extension Center Specialists for Dairy and Farm Management. Editorship is on a rotating basis. Additional effort is required to increase both overall subscriptions and distribution through county Extension offices and agriculture service providers. Employer information appears to be a need that is especially important to larger farm operations. As a final thought, one subscriber wrote, “Any article has some value, just keep writing.”