Stepping up the use of digital tools can be a game-changer for small agricultural and forest products businesses. The integration of farm and forest mobile applications has been shown to save both time and money, while improving productivity by enabling farmers and wood products businesses to spend more time on their core business.

Starting a website, improving the design of an existing site, such as through integrating an online storefront, leveraging an online farmers market, and effectively using social media can all be important steps to growing market share and increasing sales. It is also important to prepare for business continuity in the face of risks, including natural disasters, by leveraging the cloud.

As specific tools and applications for farm and forest operations have multiplied, access to the Internet in Vermont’s rural areas has grown significantly. Currently, less than 2% of Vermont addresses do not yet have service or do not have a specific broadband project expected to serve it in the very near future.

Now that Vermont is in sight of the goal of universal basic services, it is even more important that we help Vermont’s farm and forest-based businesses better leverage the Internet availability and improved cell phone coverage to improve their business operations and profitability.

That’s why we put together the “Using Digital Tools in Farm and Forest” panel at the 2013 Summit for Vermont’s Working Landscape, held at the Vermont Technical College on December 17th. The panel highlight the effective use of digital tools in Vermont’s farm and forest industry.

It featured concrete advice from farm and forest practitioners, as well as from experts who assist with training and strategies for digital tools in farm and forest businesses.

Rachel Nevitt, the co-owner of the Full Moon Farm in Hinesburg described how she “entered the digital age kicking and screaming” after realizing that her farm and CSA would not thrive without a website and social media presence. Her careful eye brought new life to the farm and its promotions, including the use of digital tools. At the panel discussion, Nevitt stressed the importance of knowing which digital tools you feel comfortable with. She also discussed how Facebook and her farm’s website had helped grow her family’s business.

In stark contrast, Richard Bissell, Vice President of the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers and a fine woodworker himself, has been leveraging the Internet for his business and for Vermont’s woodworking sector since the late 90s. He effectively uses websites and Facebook for both his own business and for the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers, which has twenty-eight members. The Guild recently received a grant to step up its social media and other promotions. Bissell also gave several more advanced examples of digital tool usage, including a 24×7 video feed into his workshop and just-in-time inventory ordering.

Heather Darby is knowledgeable about the use of digital tools in the farming sector both as a seventh generation farmer (at the Darby Farm) and as a teacher at UVM Extension. Among her current projects, she is developing mobile applications specifically for Vermont farmers. The latest app is called GoCrop. Darby explained the different integration strategies between Facebook pages and websites. In her experience, Facebook is the most effective tool for her farm. For UVM Extension, the website is most critical for distributing information, while Facebook is highly effective at driving traffic to the website.

Finally, project partner, Pat Ripley, the eCommerce Director at the Vermont Small Business Development Center, shared multiple examples of effective digital strategies, including an online farmer’s market called that was developed during the eVermont project and his recent work with Eat More Kale, including the re-design of their website and addition of an advanced online shopping cart.

We were very fortunate to pull this group together for our panel at the Summit and we really appreciate both their participation and their advice. For more great tips on how to leverage digital tools in farm and forest businesses, check out the panel video above.