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Internet Changing Nature of Ag Sales
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The Internet changed the way many farmers do business as this spring, seeds and farm chemicals were offered for sale online.
Robert McCarty, state entomologist and director of the Bureau of Plant Industry located at Mississippi State University, said this planting season was the first one where farm inputs were available online.
"This was a whole new era," McCarty said. "There are companies springing up regularly to offer pesticides, fertilizers, seeds and other farm-related supplies online."
Internet sales now bring the convenience of home-shopping and home-delivery to the farm. Farmers can shop online for the supplies they need and compare to get the best prices.
But McCarty said with this convenience comes some dangers, both to the farmer trying to make a good purchase and to society if chemicals are sold or used illegally.
"It's a buyer beware market, and you don't know whether you're getting a quality product or an old, outdated product, one that has been improperly stored or one that has been tampered with," McCarty said. "Some companies are dedicated to providing high quality agricultural products, but if the Internet company is only serving as a broker or auction site, the buyer may get stuck with an inferior product, and they will have no one to go to resolve the problem."
McCarty said the first step in ensuring safe web purchases of farm inputs is to know the company with whom one is doing business. Manufacturers or companies that label their own products have a physical location and are registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Purchases from such companies are much safer as buyers can physically locate these sellers if problems arise.
While the danger of farmers being sold inferior products is real, a possibly even greater danger is the use of the Internet to avoid regulations concerning restricted-use products.
"Purchasers must be certified applicators to legally use restricted-use products. The person selling it has the legal responsibility to keep records of who buys these chemicals," McCarty said. "But non-certified people may be able to buy restricted-use pesticides off the Internet and illegally use them."
When purchasing chemicals in person, buyers are required to show their applicator certification and are given any written materials required. However, not all online sale sites ask for this certification information or provide the necessary instructional or regulatory paperwork.
Another problem surfaces when farmers can buy chemicals online that are not registered for use in their home state or whose use has been cancelled.
"That would cause a user to apply a non-registered product, which is illegal, and it may result in a residue in the commodity that would cause problems when the product is sold," McCarty said.
The Bureau of Plant Industry receives complaints about problems with farm inputs, and so far has had a limited number of these since the introduction of the Internet as a sales tool.
John Coccaro, area cotton agent for Sharkey, Issaquena and Humphreys counties, said most farm inputs available on the Internet are seeds and general-use chemicals. Regardless of whether these are bought locally or online, almost all of these items are tax exempt.
"Farmers are very cost conscious, and in an area like ours where we have a number of agricultural chemical supply dealers, they usually talk to several dealers before making a final decision to purchase a product, and then they negotiate on a final price," Coccaro said.
The Extension agent said that the service that goes along with the sale of the product plays a big part in farmers' decisions.
"Most local chemical suppliers have a hired field man who services the customers," Coccaro said. "They visit the farmers and walk the fields. If there's any kind of problem after a farmer has applied a chemical, they've got this guy locally they can get their hands on."
In a recent document discussing regulatory issues and the Internet sale of pesticides, American Cyanamid, a major U.S. manufacturer of agrichemicals, said concerns have been building for two years. Banned pesticides have been offered for sale online and pesticides not approved in the United States can be obtained via the Internet from worldwide locations.
"The Internet has already enhanced many aspects of agribusiness," the company states. "When it comes to agrichemical sales through this media, the buyers, sellers and other intermediaries must fully comply with the environmental, health and safety regulations and voluntary stewardship guidelines governing these products and their use."
Contact: Robert McCarty, (662) 325-3390