Sunday wrapped up the annual county fair held in my rural Iowa town. If you’re not used to the sites and sounds (and smells) of a small county fair in Iowa, you may not understand the draw. Kids from all over the county packed up their cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, photos, cookies, and art projects and took the humbling pass in front of a judge to hear their opinions. It’s simple, wholesome, and for the most part, untouched by the hands of time.
Feed and genetic technology have changed, but it’s still a cow, a pig, a sheep, and a chicken. Digital camera technology has improved, but it’s still a beautiful photograph. Kitchen utensils have been reengineered, but the cookie is still delicious. Detached from the fair and the value it brings to our rural kids and communities, an observer may think it’s a thing of the past. A relic to remember but not to cherish, build and promote. But, the county fair matters. It instills work ethic and pride in kids.
It moves agriculture forward by building another generation of people who understand where their food comes from and what goes into ensuring it’s safe, healthy, and efficient. It takes kids away from their phones and laptops and into the dirt. It’s so much more valuable than what’s on the surface.
In many ways, I draw parallels from what I observed at our county fair to our work with ag retailers. On the surface, ag retail may seem like an unnecessary cog in the wheel. Why preserve this segment of the industry when e-commerce has been perfected? When there’s infrastructure available to move inputs from large warehouses to anywhere in the country in days. In fact, the companies detached from the industry are out to do just that – replace the ag retailer. But we believe ag retailers are so much more than order takers. We know they’re advisors, confidants, product experts, and the eyes and ears of what’s working in the farmer’s area.
But, just like the livestock genetics and feed of the past probably wouldn’t earn a blue ribbon at today’s county fair, the pen-and-paper selling methods of day’s past won’t earn ag retailers a place on today’s farm operation. Farmers are looking for the professional experience that they’re used to getting in every other transaction in their life: formal quotes, email and text message notifications, and accurate pricing, combined with the relationships they build with a trusted advisor.
These are things that an online retailer can’t deliver. But they can be delivered by a retailer who is enabled by technology that provides these professional touch points to bolster the in-person selling experience.
There will always be things people outside the ag community don’t understand and try to impart to the industry. They may even do it under the guise of industry supporters. (They’re usually pretty identifiable by their skinny jeans and blazers.) But we know the industry and say long live county fair and ag retail!