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Down On the Farm

  |  October 21, 2003   |  Comments

Rural South Dakota: who's the Luddite? Our own interactive agency media buyer.

This is absolutely my favorite time of year, bar none. Autumn is wonderful if you're an outdoors enthusiast. Outdoors to me means hunting and fishing. And autumn means hunting, specifically. I spend more time following my German shorthaired pointer around the woods and fields in search of grouse and pheasants than anything else (save work).

If I could do one thing for the rest of my life, I'd choose what I did this past weekend: the South Dakota Pheasant Opener. South Dakota is the pheasant hunting Mecca, hands down. My dad, my dog and I have been there for the start of the season every year since I was six years old. Dogs have come and gone, but our trip West has always commenced the third weekend in October.

I've seen a lot of changes on the plains of South Dakota over the past five or six years. One might think after driving seven hours across an agricultural state (the last five of which, thankfully, have no cell coverage) to a town of 210 people nestled on the Missouri River, you'd step back in time. For the most part, that's true. People are friendly, clothes are plain (and blaze orange), vehicles are aged and values are different from what we're used to. It's different in a good way, if you ask me.

What may surprise you is how technologically advanced it is out there.

We hunt on about 35,000 acres. Because of the amount of land and the fact that it spreads across dozens of miles in any direction, a guide accompanies us. Each guide used to have a cell phone to keep in touch with Ron, the proprietor, and the other guides. Often, Ron wants to hunt a particularly large area, requiring two or more hunting parties to meet up and work the field together. Problems used to arise. Cell phone coverage was spotty and groups were spread all over the area. Ron would have to call everyone (and possibly interrupt a key moment).

Now, Ron distributes GPS-enabled devices to each guide. They have SMS and cell phone capability. Ron checks his device to see the location of each hunting party, selects the one closest to the desired location and sends a text message (so as not to interrupt) to the guide, asking when they can show up at the desired field. Another useful function when the group shows up to hunts the big field is that people who have the devices can keep track of others within the field, as long as they're similarly equipped.

Before a hunt, most of the hunters go to the local diner for breakfast. (Do breakfasts get any better than the ones in small town diners?) We hunters are the intruders. Most patrons are the local farmers who come every morning to discuss all manner of topics.

In recent years, I've overheard innumerable conversations in which farmers mention being online earlier that morning or the previous night. The USDA reports 72 percent of large-scale farmers (sales and government payments over $250,000) are online. That outpaces the general population by about 11 percent. Farmers typically check message boards and chat rooms about things like weed control and irrigation. Most, if not all, the farmers in the area I frequent sell their harvests at online auctions. An agricultural eBay, if you will.

This doesn't begin to scratch the surface. Farmers use wireless technologies to assist in veterinary procedures and diagnosis. Kansas developed a wireless method of coordinating with a centralized database to improve day-to-day livestock health monitoring, provide early detection and reporting systems to prevent agro-terrorism. Disease patterns for herds throughout the state are monitored. Many universities, key resources for area farmers, are moving their agricultural resources to wireless-accessible platforms to assist farmers where they need it most: in the field.

How does all this relate to media? Maybe you'll have to draw your own conclusions. I'll draw a couple, too.

I wrote about my trip to South Dakota because it's something I'm passionate about. Also, because the way technology has permeated that farming community fascinates me. We rely on this medium every day for so many things that seem trivial compared to those used by people who put food on our tables. Agroterrorism defense? As if they didn't have enough challenges.

In many regions of this country, you can reach a very well defined subset of the U.S. population in a way not previously possible. This particular subset demands value and no-nonsense utility from the medium. If you happen to have an offer that's relevant -- if you're a discount retailer, a Main Street financial service, or an automotive dealer (they'll drive over 80 miles to shop) -- and give them what they demand, you'll find quite a receptive audience in places you perhaps never thought you would.


Mark Redetzke Mark Redetzke is vice president of online media for Zentropy Partners, a unit of MRM (McCann Relationship Marketing). He's led Zentropy's Minneapolis online media department since 1999, where he develops integrated online contact strategies and oversees all planning and buying. Current clients include Nestle Purina, General Mills, H&R Block, Microsoft, Overture and Sprint. Earlier, Mark planned traditional and online media for Campbell-Mithun. He's a frequent guest lecturer at conferences and graduate advertising and communications courses at St. Thomas University; the University of Minnesota; Minneapolis School of Communication Arts & Design and the 4A's.

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