Perceptions of agricultural producers towards services offered by farm supply cooperatives in three Montana counties
Thibault, Sandra Lee
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The purpose of this study was to determine the perceptions and attitudes of current agricultural member and non-member producers toward the services offered by their local Montana farm supply cooperatives in three chosen counties and provide necessary information for managers to target producer markets. Data for this study were gathered by mailed questionnaire sent to ten (10) percent of the agricultural producers in each of three (3) counties: Flathead, Gallatin and Pondera. Of the 217 surveys sent, 112 were returned for an approximate response rate of 52%. Data were gathered in four areas: (1) demographics, (2) sales and service (cooperative functions and pricing), (3) advertising methods, and (4) purchasing habits and distribution of income. Analysis of the data revealed that the majority of the respondents were over 50 years of age with no respondents under 30 years of age. There was even distribution by farm size with the exception of 55-99 acre operations which had only a small percent and all in one county. No noticeable differences were noted by farm size, based on gross farm sales, and respondents' perceptions of services offered by the local farm supply cooperative. Non-members were more supportive and loyal to cooperatives than were members in rating cooperative personnel and cooperative functions. Cooperatives handle a majority of fuel and fertilizer sales to producers but much less livestock feed and other equipment even in those areas displaying high volume potential. The data further reveal that cooperatives are educating consumers to new products and services offered by (a) visits to the store, (b) word of mouth, (c) direct newsletters, (d) advertising circulars, and (e) newspaper advertisements. At the same time, cooperatives need to increase direct calls by sales staff, scheduled visits by field representatives, newspaper advertisements, direct newsletters and radio. The data gathered for this study show many of the responses regarding sales and services gathered about the mean, which reveal a neutral response. However, data show that producers are price conscious and shop around for the best deals and that cooperative prices are more important than patron refunds.