UMCA News Release
From honey to timber: Missouri Exchange online marketplace broadens opportunities and shows quick growth
From honey to homemade soap, and medicinal herbs to timber and native plant seeds, Missouri's land and forest owners offer a tremendous variety of value-added agricultural products. A new online marketplace, launched in January of 2007, is helping connect buyers and sellers of these products faster than you can say "wild bergamont."
As part of its mission to enhance sustainable income opportunities for family farms, the Center for Agroforestry teamed up with Grow Native!, a program of the Missouri Department of Conservation, to bring together buyers and sellers of Missouri-grown products with an innovative, free Web site. The site, called Missouri Exchange, is an online marketplace that allows producers to post products for sale -- and buyers to list products they are looking for -- at no charge to the user. Generating a list of more than 110 members in less than three months, Missouri Exchange is rapidly expanding producers' markets.
"The site is broadening marketing opportunities for Missouri producers who specialize in niche market products," said Larry Godsey, economist, University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry. "One great thing about Missouri Exchange is that you don't have to be a big producer to participate. That's the whole point of this. We want small growers, too."
Local products in a global market
Products on the site include locally grown mushrooms, nuts and herbs; native plants; greenhouse plants; decorative woody florals; specialty wood products and timber products. "The online market is the fastest growing market area," Godsey said. "It's convenient, and the Internet provides immediate access to the information. Producers who list merchandise on the Web site have unlimited access to potential buyers throughout the state, throughout the country, even around the world."
Penny Frazier, co-owner and developer of Goods from the Woods, a native plant product and botanicals producer in the Ozark region of Missouri, is hoping Missouri Exchange will help connect her organic products to a range of buyers, especially in urban areas. As consumer interest in certified organic products rises, Goods from the Woods receives requests for organic native plant materials that are difficult to find in adequate quantity. "Last year, we needed three times the hickory nuts than we could source. It is very hard to find a method for communicating about these plant products, but Missouri Exchange can be a key component in linking producers to urban markets and manufacturers.
"Everyone knows that the small rural producer's link to urban markets is one of the largest challenges to building a stable, sustainable rural community and capturing resource dollars for rural areas," said Frazier. "The site offers a perfect blended venue for those of us whose interests merge agriculture, forestry and non-timber forest products. It can also result in a greater understanding of the increasing value of native plant materials, especially organics."
Creating the perfect match
Buyers and sellers who wish to use www.missouriexchange.com must register on the site and can provide the level of contact information they choose. For example, a grower may post a phone number, an e-mail address, a short biography and a photograph of his or her farm. Others may list only the items they are selling or looking to buy and an e-mail address. No sales are made via the Web site, but once a potential buyer or seller locates the products they are seeking, information can be easily exchanged through email or by phone to enable transactions to occur between parties.
The site is designed to be quick and convenient. Registered buyers can browse offers to sell posted by sellers, and then contact the seller through the form provided. The seller will handle the buyer's offer directly. If a buyer doesn't find what he or she is looking for, a request to buy can be posted. At any time, the online directory of products offered can be searched.
"In comparison to sites that handle direct transactions, Missouri Exchange places a great deal of freedom and control in the hands of the buyers and sellers," said Ina Cernusca, market research specialist, University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry. "The site can provide detailed information to precisely match the needs of a producer to a buyer, and vice versa - but this is dependent on users listing offers about their products (offers to sell), or those products they wish to buy (requests to buy) in addition to the directory page and making them as clear and specific as possible."
Once registered, sellers of agricultural products can post offers to sell using product categories provided on the Web site. They can view requests to buy posted on the site and contact potential buyers using the forms provided. By joining the online directory of members in Missouri, a seller can provide additional information about their company, post photos and create a link to their Web page. Contact information is kept secure through the registration process and the creation of personal accounts.
In 2006, Grow Native! partnered with the MU Center for Agroforestry to develop the site. Funding for the Missouri Exchange site is provided by a grant from the Federal State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP), funneled through the Missouri Department of Agriculture. FSMIP, funded by annual appropriations to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, provides matching funds to state agencies to explore new market opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural products.
"It's a very user-friendly site," said Tammy Bruckerhoff, marketing and business development specialist for Grow Native!. Grow Native!'s charge is to restore the state's biodiversity and increase awareness of native plants and their uses. "We frequently receive requests for places to buy native seeds and plants. Now, buyers can check this Web site for sources," Bruckerhoff said.
Expanding to quality standards and education
The Missouri Exchange site includes product lists and a directory of members. Buyers and sellers can post feedback, ask questions, make offers for products or recommend items to friends. Producers can change prices and update offerings immediately.
Product information will be available to buyers and sellers, including that which may help establish quality standards for niche industries. "A broader market will help provide additional income opportunities for small farmers and landowners. We hope to use feedback from market participants to identify quality standards for products," Godsey said. "Small niche markets often lack quality standards. We hope to post information that can help serve people who wish to participate in those small markets."
Paul Gustafson, Sni Valley Seed Company, Centerview, Mo., has several product listings on Missouri Exchange, specializing in native wildflower seed production. The company is a project Gustafson is leading with plant science students at Grain Valley High School, with a vision to expand into live plant sales.
"Missouri Exchange gives us exposure as to what our small, but viable, business does and offers," said Gustafson. "The one-stop shopping feature makes it a centralized place for everyone to see the niche markets in the state - and hopefully will boost our efforts to improve our plant science program."
Godsey said the Web site would be closely monitored for appropriate postings and up-to-date information.
"If something has been posted for 60 days, we will contact (the seller) to make sure it is still available," he said. "Our hope is it will highlight the diversity of products that can be grown in Missouri."
Visit www.missouriexchange.com to buy or sell Missouri-grown agricultural products today.
The University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry is one of the world's leading centers contributing to the scientific understanding of agroforestry. Linked with the Center's solid science and research programs are several key collaborations and partnerships with landowners, natural resource professionals, federal and state agencies and non-profit organizations. Through this relationships, UMCA and its partners are producing an expanding a list of positive outcomes for landowners, the natural environment and society as a whole. One of the Center's primary goals is to create new income opportunities and markets for farm and forest landowners.
Grow Native! is a joint program of the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Its objectives include helping protect and restore the state's biodiversity by increasing conservation awareness of native plants and their effective use through partnerships among private industry, non-profit organizations, government agencies and landowners.