New marketing program could boost fresh sales Louisiana’s agriculture and seafood industries will soon have a new Web portal with which to push their wares. It’s called MarketMaker and should be up and operational on the Internet in early 2010.

During a presentation to the Baton Rouge Press Club recently, LSU AgCenter Vice Chancellor Paul Coreil told reporters that the site would function like an online farmers’ market. “The service will help producers find a market anywhere in the country for their products,” Coreil said. “This raises our [agriculture and seafood] marketing efforts to the next level. This will be a huge boost for our rural economy.”

MarketMaker was originally developed by the University of Illinois and is already in use by 12 states. Arkansas and Florida join Louisiana as upstarts looking to go online within the next year. About $125,000 in federal recovery funds will be used to purchase the software, develop it and keep the site going for three years. After that, the Louisiana Farm Bureau and state departments of agriculture and fisheries have committed to sustaining the program. The service will be free to both buyers and sellers.

The concept is simple enough: Farmers and fishermen will be able to enter their contact information and their products, including sizes and varieties. Everyday consumers, restaurants, chefs, wholesalers and others will then be able to search Louisiana MarketMaker for what they want, and the free enterprise system takes over from there. The Web portal will not be used to negotiate price and shipping.

Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said there will be an aggressive outreach campaign to contact wholesalers, restaurants and the like. “We want to simplify the direct marketing concept for our producers,” Strain added. “This is a great tool. It could mean tens of millions of dollars for our small producers.”

It’ll be simple enough to use — for those with Internet access. That alone, though, could be a major hurdle. For instance, Strain noted that only 57 percent of Louisiana farmers have a way to the Web. While no firm numbers were available for commercial fishermen, Coreil said the same type of challenges can be found there as well. In the coming months, producers will have the ability to enter their information at any number of state agriculture and fisheries offices. “We’re going to give them a wide variety of opportunities to get online,” Coreil said. “We’ll make it as easy as we can.”

In particular, the Web portal could be a boost to the fledgling shrimp industry, said Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham. In addition to battling cheap imports, high fuel prices and other market factors, the industry, Barham maintained, is also losing bodies. In 2000, there were 6,900 commercial shrimpers in Louisiana, but today that number is down to 2,900.

While the program might appear to be geared toward fishermen, Barham added that processors, many of whom are sitting on record inventories, will be able to use the portal, too. “This could help us create a real identity for Louisiana shrimp,” he said. 

Value-added products, like ice cream from the state’s dairy farmers, will be able to be listed on the site as well, officials say. As such, the probable list could be huge: alligator hides, sweet potatoes, nutria meat, Ponchatoula strawberries, catfish filets, Ruston peaches, Natchitoches meat pies and more. But more than just listing products, the Web site will also be able to analyze all of the markets, become the source for other databases and determine market demographics.

During the next couple of months, officials from the LSU AgCenter will begin conducting training sessions across the state so producers can start populating the site.

For more information, the national site can be found at www.national.marketmaker.uiuc.edu.

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