Louisiana’s agricultural and seafood industries will have a new marketing tool in early 2010 when MarketMaker, a national Internet-driven service, is inaugurated in the state, according to officials with the LSU AgCenter.

“Louisiana MarketMaker will serve as a central clearinghouse for any agricultural commodity in the state, including seafood products and specialty crops,” said Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor and director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service.

“The service will help producers find a market anywhere in the country for their products. This raises our agricultural marketing efforts to the next level. This will be a huge boost for our rural economy.”

Louisiana MarketMaker will be possible because of Community Development Block Grant funding from the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF), which have committed $125,000 in startup and operations funding to keep the program going for three years.

In addition, the program will be sustained after the initial three years with support from LDWF, LDAF and the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation.

“We want to help simplify the direct marketing concept for our producers,” said Mike Strain, Agriculture and Forestry commissioner. “A Louisiana grower produces a value-added product in the form and place the consumer wants, and the consumer buys the product. The consumer gets the freshest quality product at a fair price directly from the producer, while the farmer receives a larger percentage of the consumers’ dollars because the middleman function has been eliminated.”

“The acquisition of this marketing tool is a great example of how a relatively small amount of funding can have vast, positive effects on multiple industries,” said Robert Barham, LDWF secretary. “Our strong partnerships with the LRA, LDAF and the LSU AgCenter will continue to grow and strengthen as we all find various ways to work together to utilize this software.”

MarketMaker was developed by the University of Illinois and is managed and maintained at that university. The program is expected to be adopted by every state, Coreil said.

“MarketMaker serves all businesses in the food supply chain as well as consumers looking for locally grown foods,” said John Westra, LSU AgCenter economist, who along with Roger Hinson, another LSU AgCenter economist, will set up the program in Louisiana and train Extension agents in the state to help producers put their information into the database.

MarketMaker is already in place in 12 states and the District of the Columbia. The Southern states running the program include Mississippi, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina. Like Louisiana, Arkansas and Florida are gearing up to launch the program.

“We’re expecting other Southern states to come on board soon,” Westra said.

MarketMaker is more than an Internet-based database. It also has the ability to analyze the market, taking advantage of other databases, including the Census. It will allow Louisiana producers to research customer demographics by location, ethnicity, household characteristics and income.

“Producers have the ability to search out and find the most likely markets for their products,” Westra said.

One of the first Louisiana industries to benefit from this service will be the shrimpers, Coreil said. “We’re very excited to be able to come to the aid of our shrimping industry, which has really been hit hard lately. This tool will help them find new markets. Anything we can do to help producers in our rural and coastal parishes is a plus.”

“As we are recovering from four hurricanes that devastated our fisheries and agricultural industries, we’ve learned that our producers must be looking for new opportunities and customers for their goods, which is exactly what we hope MarketMaker will enable them to do,” said Paul Rainwater, LRA executive director. “This is an investment in our hard-working Louisiana farmers, fishers and shrimpers and one that we are proud to join our partners in making.”

The first step in implementing MarketMaker is generating awareness. Even though the service won’t be up and running for another six months, producers can register at their local LSU AgCenter Extension offices.

Westra and Hinson will begin training sessions across the state in early 2010 so producers can start populating the site with information about their products. The national site is at Farm Industry MarketMaker.

“MarketMaker will help growers who can’t get to farmers markets reach consumers. The system should help the Louisiana agricultural and seafood industries create nationwide visibility,” Hinson said.

The program works through an online database. Typical sellers are direct marketers of agricultural products, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, meats and seafood. They will promote their products through written descriptions, postings and Web links to their operations on the Louisiana MarketMaker Web site.

Using keywords to search for products, buyers include individual consumers, farmers markets, wholesalers, restaurants, grocers and others looking for products that may be locally grown, in-season or organically produced or have other attributes.

The service is free to buyers and sellers. Users do not buy or sell directly through MarketMaker. They use the system to identify, locate and begin interacting with each other so they can make the market themselves.