PGW latest to try to convince farmers to take up e-commerce

The press release announcing the launch of Agonline last week suggests PGG Wrightson (PGW) “is bringing e-commerce to the rural sector with the first specialist auction site for livestock trading.” Praiseworthy and bold it may be, but I can remember Fencepost’s Livestock Online launched seven years ago and more recently Allied Farmers’ MyLiveStock which got there before Agonline.

In fact when I was working at Fencepost developing Livestock Online, Kiwi Co-op Dairies owned the website and Craig Norgate was CEO which makes the claim of originality a bit hard to take seriously. Also a look at MyLiveStock shows a number of herds for sale by auction or tender supported by a description, breed details and photograph of the dairy cattle for sale.

However I concede our efforts at Fencepost were initially restricted to slaughter stock offered to meat companies, although we never managed to convince enough meat companies to participate in the auctions. There were a number of farmers willing to offer bulls and cull cows for sale, but shortage of money meant we couldn’t build the programmes to handle sales of prime beef, sheep and lambs.

I’m impressed by the user friendliness of the Agonline website, but I struggle to see how it offers much more, at least for now, than MyLiveStock, apart from the back up of LIC data for all listings and the integration of all transactions with national PGW’s dairy representative network. There are also many references in the press release and on the website to the extension of the system later this year to all other species.

The PR blurb claims other attempts to enter the online space have “largely been information sites which allow vendors to list, but do not provide the ability to transact online in a manner that reflects the structure and requirements of rural business.” This suggests PGW intends Agonline to replicate the sound, smell and social contact of the saleyards without the need to leave the office, while your stock agent will do all the hard work, presumably at less cost.

It’s theoretically an attractive concept that could eventually minimise the need for saleyards, while making the stock agent (or dairy representative) more productive. It could even reduce the need for the agent to get involved in the middle, although this is unlikely because of the agent network throughout the country.

The relative success of online livestock auctions in Australia where 20% of stock is sold online makes it tempting to predict similar results in New Zealand, but it’s been going nearly 20 years on the other side of the Tasman without any sign of similar enthusiasm over here. The big difference there is the enormous distances stock must travel to the nearest saleyard which makes it uneconomic to transport animals without the certainty of a sale. Online auctions in Australia started with prime beef, not dairy cows, whereas here dairy is seen as a much easier starting point, not least because of the higher proportion of computer literate dairy farmers with broadband access.

My past experience with Fencepost and the interminable debate about animal ID and traceability makes me sceptical about New Zealand sheep and beef farmers’ readiness to adopt new technology, unless it is guaranteed to offer them real on farm efficiency and profitability gains. While dairy farmers and PGW’s dairy representatives may be at the forefront of using Agonline, I suspect sheep and beef farmers, and their stock agents, will be harder to convince. A small number of ‘early adopters’ will embrace the new online auction with enthusiasm, but inevitably the majority will be slow to pick it up.

It will be up to PGW and its agents to find compelling reasons for farmers to want to change their ways. This comes down to real benefits like lower cost of sales, accurate description of livestock specifications and successfully completed online contracts which get farmers telling each other about the deals that worked. The best advertising will be users spreading good news about just how well the system worked for them. PGW is trying to do something nobody has yet managed to do in the rural sector. I wish them all the best.

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3 Responses to “PGW latest to try to convince farmers to take up e-commerce”

  1. Surl Jurgensen Says:

    I’d buy a herd on TradeMe.

  2. Jenae Rubison Says:

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    • Allan Barber Says:

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t publish newsletters, but I do write them for clients when they require a staff or supplier newsletter. Keep an eye on my blog for new articles every couple of weeks.

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