New e-commerce services are being provided and expanded by New Zealand's largest dairy companies in a bid to win the favour of the country's farmers. The NZ$10m fencepost.com was launched two months ago by Taranaki's Kiwi Co-operative Dairies and is already scoring the most hits of all the agricultural web sites. Elsewhere, Hamilton's New Zealand Dairy Group (NZDG) has announced that while it will keep its two-year old nzdairy.co.nz promotional site, supplier information will become available on rdl.com by February 2001.

Neal Murphy, CEO of rdl.com, explained that the site has been in development for four months now and while it could go live now: "W e want to get it exactly right, and who better to help refine and develop the site than the farmers who will want to use it?"

When the site is live, farmers will be able to shop online from a range that will eventually include all 12,000 products currently available in Anchormart stores and several research papers. The goods are collected in a "truck". Murphy expects rdl.com to become a market leader in the rural products and services sector, currently valued at NZ$5bn.

At fencepost.com meanwhile, control manager James Norman is anxious to stress the practical benefits of being more of a "no-frills" site: "Our main focus is providing practical tips for farmers so they can farm better."

Up to 5,000 visitors reach the site everyday, and statistics are growing despite the fact that only eight items are for sale. Norman said, however: "It's going to get interesting when both sites start looking beyond their immediate dairy company audience."

Fencepost.com does not contain many graphics and photos because, it explains, poor rural phone lines often slow farmers down. Is this enough concession to the online status of farmers however? Affco has recently released a rural monitoring survey that shows that only 51% of rural New Zealand has access to the Internet, and just 6% of people in these areas claimed to have used credit cards to make purchases online.

The e-commerce sites remain confident, however. Murphy claims that 60% of rural families would buy over the Internet if it served their needs, and Norman agreed this was the case: "When people become aware of what's available they're converted overnight."