Request for Proposals: Marketing Firm for New Technologies for Agricultural Extension (NTAE) Project

eXtension Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, requests services from a marketing firm experienced in providing marketing services to not-for-profit organizations with an emphasis in agriculture and the food production industry. Services are funded through a cooperative agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute for Food and Agriculture. 

  1. Background
    1. The eXtension Foundation, founded in 2006, is a membership-based non-profit organization designed to fuel Cooperative Extension’s growth, leadership, competencies, entrepreneurship, and stewardship for innovation and technology supporting Cooperative Education professionals. Cooperative Extension is a national system of educational outreach from land-grant universities/colleges located in every U.S. state and the territories. eXtension generates value for its members and partners by offering professional growth and learning and fostering innovation at member institutions.
    2. Locations. eXtension is a national organization and operates as a multi-state entity: we are incorporated in Missouri. Given the broad geographic distribution of our staff and Board of Directors, we are also a virtual organization highly reliant on video conferencing and other tools for collaboration in addition to email.
  2.  Communications & Marketing Function.
    1. Assigned duties. One employee has been assigned communications, marketing, and engagement duties: the Communications & Engagement Manager, who is primarily responsible for providing proactive and strategic communications to our members and to the Land-Grant University system.
  3.  Overview: Scope of Services, Please address the following required services in your proposal:
    1. Coordinate an audience assessment and program awareness campaign in Year 1 (November  2019 – August 2020) to support the Bridging the GAPS (BG) program and position this program as a valuable, trusted, resource for fresh produce growers in select communities across Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. 
      1. Conduct market research 
        1. Determine current levels of awareness of fresh produce growers in regards to surface water pathogens and what steps they are presently taking to protect against these pathogens. 
        2. Determine fresh produce growers understanding of regulatory requirements for ag water treatment in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
        3. Survey what existing water treatment systems are used
        4. Survey whether employees are trained in the use of the water system, maintenance, and repair.
      2. Determine best channels, including Cooperative Extension, for reaching the target audience with BG program resources and information.
      3. Identify potential messaging strategies to better engage target audience to engage with BG Program and CES resources
  4. Bridging the Gaps Program 
    1. Background
      1. Preventing foodborne illness and the protection of public health is objective 7.1 of the US Department of Agriculture 2018-2022 Strategic Plan. Sanitary irrigation water for produce is mandated by the USDA, including monitoring, treating and verifying compliance. Proper food sanitation is imperative to prevent situations like the Yuma, AZ  outbreak in the spring of 2018 that ultimately resulted in 210 reported illnesses from 36 states, 96 hospitalizations, 27 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and five deaths. The outbreak was linked to romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma region.
      2. In March 2019, FDA published a rule called Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption; Extension of Compliance Dates for Subpart E, which:
        1. Extends ALL provisions of Subpart E (Agricultural water) other than sprouts including the safe and sanitary quality, annual inspection, and postharvest water monitoring requirements.
        2. FDA has stated that the reason for this extension is to allow time “to address questions about the practical implementation of compliance with certain provisions and to consider how we might further reduce the regulatory burden or increase flexibility while continuing to protect public health.”
        3. Until the process of consideration is finished, the water requirements are the Rule.
      3. A multi-state, interdisciplinary team of public and private sector experts have partnered together to create a curriculum designed to help producers 1) Understand the regulatory requirements for ag water treatment in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), 2) Find the right water treatment system for their farm, 3) Developing standard operating procedures that will be effecting in treating water on their farm and to monitor its implementation, and 4) Ensuring that the proper system is implemented correctly and that employees are trained in its use, maintenance and repair.
      4. This curriculum, Bridging the GAPS – Approaches for treating water on-farm, is a four-module curriculum designed for a producer audience. This curriculum has been piloted on a limited basis to make initial improvements to improve its effectiveness. This curriculum is ready for a broader implementation. Being part of the current New Technologies for Agricultural Extension federal grant will bring the additional resources of the NTAE team to work alongside the Bridging the GAPS team to expand its scope and refine its effectiveness to impact the safety of the national food supply, particularly irrigated produce. The associated eXtension Fellow and action team will develop documentation to create an eFieldbook to support the curriculum and and possibly seek expansion opportunities through assisted market research.
    2. Audience & Location
      1. Fresh produce growers in North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Tennessee. 
    3. Specific Crop and/or Product Involved
      1. The food safety landscape is continually evolving, and the fresh produce industry is no exception. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) of 2011 has emphasized prevention of foodborne illnesses rather than responding to outbreaks.  In response to FSMA, the FDA has finalized 21 CFR Part 112:  Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption (Produce Safety Rule). This regulation has fundamentally changed the expectations of produce growers, particularly with respect to characterization of foodborne pathogen risks and application of appropriate mitigation strategies. 
      2. Currently, the safety of produce relies on the implementation of Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) to prevent microbial contamination during growing, harvesting, and packing. Because irrigation water is one of the most likely points of pathogen contamination during fruit and vegetable production, the Produce Safety Rule calls for rigorous water testing in order to verify the microbial quality of surface-source irrigation water that will contact the edible portion of the plant during growing, unless a water treatment method is used.  The testing expenses will greatly impact U.S. fruit and vegetable growers since many utilize surface water as an irrigation source or source of water for herbicide and insecticide sprays. More importantly, quantifying generic E. coli does not always indicate a food safety risk.  If we are to begin reducing the risk of produce contamination, effective mitigation strategies must be utilized in irrigation water application systems.   
    4. Key Performance Indicator
      1. Program evaluation is essential to determine the overall impact of the curriculum on our stakeholders. In the short-term, participating growers’ knowledge gained, attitudes towards agricultural water treatment technologies (including perceived cost/benefits of adoption), and intent to use water treatment technologies will be evaluated by our fellow. More importantly, the adoption rate of agricultural water treatment systems by participating growers will be measured to assess actual change resulting from the taught curriculum.
  5. Proposal Outline (Please organize your proposal as follows)
    1. Executive summary. Describe your understanding of the work to be performed and your firm’s ability to complete it within the March 2020 to August 2020 timeframe. 
    2. Professional experience. Provide a description of your firm including philosophy, size,structure, and qualifications. Include a list of current engagements in the agricultural sector or Cooperative Extension that you believe are comparable to the size, mission focus, and complexity of our organization.
    3. Team qualifications. Identify the specific individuals – partners, managers, and in-charge staff – who will be assigned to this engagement if your firm’s proposal is selected, including the qualifications and experience of each.
    4. Fees. Provide a firm estimate of the fees for services to be provided during each year of the proposed one-year engagement.
    5. Additional information. Additional information not specifically requested but nonetheless helpful in evaluating your proposal is welcome.
  6. Proposal Deadline
    1. The deadline for receipt of your proposal is March 2nd, 2020. Documents should be emailed to aaronweibe@eXtension.org. Proposals received after this date will not be considered. For additional information, questions, or clarifications, please contact me via email or phone at (667) 228-4583.