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Friday, January 3, 2003
filed under: Utilization/Trade

On a walk recently in New York City, a woman came upon an ailing pigeon. Concerned for its welfare, she wanted bird food in short order to help nurse it back to health. Bird seed is not a commodity easily found in downtown Manhattan, however.

“We overnighted her an eight-pound bag of cracked corn for $75, and she was as happy as could be,” says Gordon Moe, Hawley, Minn., who partners with Grandin, N.D., sunflower grower Dan Ecker in running a “dot com” business that sells bird seed online.

Moe, an Internet web site developer, got the idea for selling bird seed on the Internet when he learned the difference between the farm price for sunflower, and the retail price for bird seed.

Internet savvy, but with no experience in agriculture, Moe began seeking a progressive, business-minded farmer to partner with in selling bird seed online. Through a family connection, he met Ecker, who grows sunflower in rotation with other crops. The two launched last February. Moe manages the web site and marketing. Ecker coordinates product orders and shipping.

Their prices aren’t cheap. A seven-pound bag of “Sunflower Hearts Wild Bird Food” sells for $16.79. An eight-pound bag of “Backyard Buffet” consisting of confection sunflower, whole corn, and in-shell peanuts is $13.35. A 25-pound bag of straight oil sunflower (described as “hands down the most popular food source for the largest number of birds. Unlike other brands, our black oil sunflowers are harvested fresh in the Red River Valley and shipped without ‘store-shelf fatigue.’”) sells for $26.25. The shipping cost is built into the price.

“Some people can’t imagine this. But our market is not North Dakota. It’s people in places like New York, Florida, and California,” says Moe. “The wild bird feeding market is $2 billion. We’re looking for a small part of that, marketing to people looking for the convenience of bird seed delivered right to their door.”

Ecker had thought about growing seed for the online business himself, but found that it would be less expensive to source cleaned, processed seed from other suppliers. “It wouldn’t make financial sense right now, until we’d get to another level of sales volume,” he says.

Volume, though still small, has increased 120% in the last few months. The new business has picked up some newspaper headlines, and has even made Paul Harvey’s news. In time, they may expand their products to include more custom mixes, as well as business to business sales, such as providing bird seed to garden shops or other retailers. In fact, they shipped their first semi-load of bird seed to a buyer just recently.

“We’re not driving around in fancy cars,” says Moe. “But we’re excited about the potential.” – Tracy Sayler
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