Kiwi Dairies' agricultural portal Fencepost.com is designed to give farmers intimate information about the economy - right down to the price of milk. It's also designed to give farmers back some of the benefits they've lost in the last 20 years as the rural sector has retrenched and services have shrunk.
Fencepost.com is just one of several websites that have popped up in the past few months in the rural sector, but it has shown the most commercial viability.
As little as three weeks after its launch, speculation was mounting of its imminent sale. With a price tag of $10 million, chief executive Roy Baker could see no reason why a dairy company had to retain ownership of a business that had 2000 registered members within a month of setting up in cyberspace.
It has been mooted that the retail side of the business could be sold off while Kiwi would keep the part of the business pertinent to providing information to suppliers and develop that side of the operation further. The service enabled farmers to obtain a profile of their milk for that day. Data included how much they had produced, the proportion of milk solids and proteins, milk quality and health ratings. Kiwi suppliers also have access to management tools for setting targets, financial balances and payment details.Kiwi has made it clear it aims to boot up productivity by 4% at least this year and Fencepost.com is one way of doing it.
The success of the portal yet again demonstrates the folly of lumping farming in with the "old economy" tag. Kiwi today is a $2.6 billion business and has within its portfolio the largest milk production facility in the world at Whareroa, Hawera.
Trans-Tasman links for the website have also been hinted at, not surprisingly given that Australian-based agbusiness consultants McKinsey & Co financed the Fencepost.com e-venture. McKinsey has an association with Australia's Wesfarmers Dalgety, one of the largest agricultural entities in this part of the world.
Kiwi's venture into the knowledge economy has, however, been labelled as being about more than using information to squeeze further growth out of what is already a very competitive industry. Dairy companies have become huge in recent times with Kiwi and fellow titan New Zealand Dairy Group gobbling up most of the country's smaller enterprises.
With this amalgamation, the internet is being seen as an excellent way of drawing Kiwi's 6500 farmers together and improving the relationship between supplier and processor. Links that have been lost through amalgamation and takeover are expected to be remade by sharing knowledge and expertise over the fence post.