Every day on average around 30,000 farmers from Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia visit the Agroklub information system on the Internet, according to official Google Analytics data for this online service, which describes and compares Internet projects.
While one farmer reads agricultural news on their home computer, another does it from the cab of their tractor via the mobile application, waiting in front of the silo for the goods to be unloaded. Equally, the covered topics are today being discussed at the Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture, as well as in the relevant ministry.
This story begins in 2008, when three young entrepreneurs from Osijek created an online service for informing food producers. Few people at the time believed in success – “Agriculture and the Internet, that’s putting together the incompatible,” and similar comments could be heard, said Mario Relatić, MSc, economist by profession, one of the founders of this now popular digital tool.
Until then, the agricultural media scene in Croatia was dominated by successful TV and radio shows, as well as magazines, and they introduced the Internet to the industry in a big way.
The very beginnings occurred in the relatively early period of the development of the Internet in our country, explains Relatić. Back then, there was no mobile phone Internet surfing because they only had two primary functions – calls and sending text messages. “We started operations at the wave of explosion of American online companies, having that background and seeing them as role models, and as we come from an agricultural area, the variables connected and the Agroklub happened,” he described the birth of the project idea.
Today, 12 years later, as many as 75% of their users consume Agroklub content via mobile phones. The development of new generation of devices has significantly increased the time spent on the Internet, and the online world is beginning to dominate the transfer of information across the globe.
Information has never been more accessible to farmers, from how and with what to treat a particular crop, where to procure some equipment or specific tools, to what is happening in the EU and the global market.
That is why they are growing from year to year when it comes to the number of people, and currently employ 14 staff. In addition, geographical and thematic dispersion is ensured by a group of about 70 journalists, external associates, from three countries.
Because of their great reach in the agricultural sector, today they are contacted by producers of agricultural machinery, seeds and seedlings, chemical preparations and various other equipment and tools, and through them communicate with the target audience – farmers and all other residents of rural areas. This is how their business model works, through advertising revenue, since the news they distribute to end users are free of charge.
They started as a portal at the level of Croatia, and over time they have developed numerous other information tools for farmers, we learned from Vedran Stapić, who oversees production and development tasks of this young company.
“Shortly after the start, we added classified ads to the portal, with the aim of enabling users to sell a tractor or buy land, and later we learned about other needs of our farmers,” Stapić describes, adding that Google search took them outside the Croatian borders.
“Through daily traffic analysis (the above-mentioned Google Analytics), we realised that our users also come from several linguistically related countries. Regardless of political views and even recent national conflicts, people are looking for a solution to a particular pest or animal disease and find the answers on our website. Search engines connect us and today offer the best resources from a language-related pool.”
Thus, 5 years ago, they expanded their business to neighbouring Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia, and opened an office in Novi Sad (SRB), only 100 kilometres away.
In the meantime, they have developed specialised databases that make agronomists’ everyday life easier – they have digitized plant production products (pesticides), then fertilisers, and shortly afterwards plant and animal species, varieties and breeds.
“Every year we raised the bar, reinvested all revenue growth in development and managed to thrive without investors and their money, because we started some time before the regional start-up scene and the domestic business angel community started to develop,” Stapić reveals part of the development strategy and adds that few could have imagined today’s scope and role of the Agroklub.
“With the passage of time, we only become aware of how far we have come when we look back at the past. Both as a media, and each of us individually in terms of competence development,” he continues the story, explaining how their business today happens on the crossroads of agriculture, media and ICT.
Today, young agronomists, economists, journalists, editors and designers of ICT solutions create in their company, making an unusual combination of specialisations.
They are also active in professional organisations, Croatian Agricultural Journalist Association (DANH) and European Network of Agricultural Journalists (ENAJ), in which Stapić is a member of the board of directors, in charge of communications of this umbrella organisation.
“It is important for us to adopt new insights and move the media standards about which we can learn from experiences of colleagues from other agricultural newsrooms, but also from more developed European democracies,” he says, noting that they have always had a developmental ‘urge’.
“We are creative enough, and yet rational, so that we always have a few ideas waiting to be implemented. We were lucky that a lot of our ideas fell on fertile ground, so lately we have been trying to self-restrain, so as not to go too wide,” says Stapić and emphasises that in the past few years they managed to implement development projects through national and EU project co-financing.
Their service today has over 200,000 followers on popular social networks, and more than 10,000 farmers have downloaded their mobile application on their smartphones and tablets.
They also use other channels, so they send the collected and published information to their users through Agroletter, their weekly newsletter, which more than 20,000 users find in their inbox every Wednesday.
They have also developed their own solutions – a part of the Agroklub which is basically a social network, a place where both readers of the portals and users of other services can create content and share their opinions and experiences.
“I think I know the global agrarian scene well and I can rightly say that we are extremely competitive and that there are not many projects that can be compared to us in technical terms. By that I mean the online media in this sector,” Stapić emphasises and states that it is so because they are not driven by profit, but by development ambition and competitiveness.
“We Croats like to compete, it is visible in sports, with which the business sector has a lot in common. Maybe there is something to it?” he concludes.
Article authored by Maja Celing-Celić