FARGO, N.D. (AP) - With his crops devastated by disease and insects, March Stevens needed to try something new. He became a cyber farmer.
After designing his own Web page to promote his farm, Stevens was asked by other farmers and business owners to help them with Internet sites. Now it's a part-time business for Stevens, his wife, Marla, and daughter, Kim.
They've created more than 50 Web sites.
"Not bad for a dumb dirt farmer," Stevens said. "I guess it started out as stress relief from the real occupation."
Most of his clients are in agriculture, although he has designed Web pages for a funeral home and the city of Glenburn, among others. He charges between $200 and $2,000, with the average Web site costing about $900, he said.
"Some of them are pretty basic," Stevens said.
He designed a Web site about four years ago for Curt Bjerke of Bjerke Brothers, Inc. in Buxton, a company that services grain cleaners and elevators. Bjerke said he's happy with how the page looks, although he knows of only one sale that came directly from the Internet.
"That was an $80,000 project," he said, chuckling. "I didn't sell a broom and make five bucks."
Jim Ness of Ness Brothers, a farm and seed company near Minot, signed up for a Web site from Stevens about a year ago, but he doesn't expect it to pay dividends right away.
"It looks real nice, but I'm not getting any business from it," Ness said. "I do get more hits all the time. A lot of people are looking and snooping."
Stevens said he is one of the fortunate rural residents who live close enough to a digital subscriber line for high-speed Internet access. "We're right on the fringe," he said.
He has invested about $10,000 in hardware, software, scanner, printer and digital cameras. A self-proclaimed electronics junkie, he has three computers hooked up to the Internet at all times and is constantly updating his equipment.
"That's not really a major investment when you consider what it takes to buy a farm tractor," he said.
Stevens has also used his Web site to advertise his other sidelines. When scab disease began to affect crops in the area, he started a grain cleaning operation that is now used by other nearby farmers.
"That was a bad deal turned into a good deal," said Stevens, who also sells grain bins and compact tractors off his Web site.
Stevens also founded ndaglinks.com, which offers free classified ads, market prices, equipment index, weather and sports. "This will allow different farmers to offer their products and help them market them," he said.
Jon Stevenson, who owns a funeral home in Dickinson, had Stevens design his original Web site, although another company has since taken over the job.
"March is very progressive," Stevenson said. "How he finds time to design Web pages, along with the farming, is pretty amazing."
Stevens, who is named after his grandfather, March Stevens, said two of his sons help with farming, giving him time to design Web sites.
He said he's just trying to keep himself - and others - on the farm.
"What we're trying to do is keep somebody in North Dakota," he said.
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