When the pandemic struck last year, rural businesses nationwide feared it would send them to the wall.
- Tim Thompson has more than 30,000 subscribers on YouTube who watch his fencing innovation videos
- The fencing market is booming due to high commodity prices and good seasons
- Australian-made fencing products are selling to a global market thanks to the internet and social media
Agricultural field days, trade shows for farming equipment, were cancelled almost overnight.
It robbed small, often family-run enterprises, of vital means of demonstrating and directly marketing their products.
Ashley Davidson used to drive 60,000 kilometres a year all over the eastern seaboard attending field days or flying to agricultural fairs in New Zealand.
His company produces an innovative type of fence post; an untreated pine pole encased in a solid coating of recycled plastic which makes it waterproof and rot-free.
The impact of social media
The product is being used on farms, vineyards, even oyster leases. Now, thanks to the internet and some canny marketing, it’s being exported to a growing number of countries.
It’s just one of a range of innovative, Australian-made fencing products finding global sales thanks to the internet and social media.
When COVID hit, Ashley Davidson quickly rallied other small-scale manufacturers of fencing products. They set aside their rivalries and agreed to promote each other’s products. Some didn’t have a website, let alone a Facebook page, but social media became pivotal.
They contacted Tim Thompson, an ag science teacher and an independent and impartial products reviewer on YouTube.
Mr Thompson demonstrates and reviews a wide range of rural goods, most notably fencing products.
Some are aimed at hobby farmers, others for fencing contractors. He now has more than 30,000 subscribers and a global audience.
“It’s certainly my job, and the job of people like me to help these smaller players find a broader audience and to work with the large manufacturers in transitioning across from what was a traditional business model into the new digital space,” Mr Thompson said.
Nicole and Rod Davidson can vouch for the effectiveness and reach of online marketing.
The couple runs a farm engineering business at Wando Bridge in south-west Victoria.
They manufacture a range of fencing clips, invented by Mr Davidson, to make fixing fencing wires more efficient and effective.
Recently Tim Thompson posted a YouTube review of their product.
A high-tech machine co-developed by Mr Davidson now punches out products around the clock. At last count, the clips had been posted to 15 countries.
“Australia is awash with innovation as it always has been, and fencing is one where people are coming up with all sorts of amazing gadgets,” Ms Davidson said.
Fencing products have also brought financial salvation for Steve Casamento. The pandemic saw half a million dollars worth of contracts for steel fabricating immediately cancelled.
Now his workshop in Melbourne’s inner north is turning out end assemblies, the anchor posts that keep fences tight.
Mr Casamento’s version can be installed without digging a hole or needing a tractor. He invented it several years ago after a day digging post holes by hand.
“Nowadays, there are people with a lot of smaller blocks. They don’t have the gear to put in big heavy timber posts,” Mr Casamento said.
His “rainy day” project has saved him from bankruptcy. He’s grateful to Tim Thompson and the other manufacturers who have assisted him in launching the product.
The market is booming
And just now, with high commodity prices and good seasons, the fencing market is booming. Some farmers are catching up after drought or rebuilding fences after bushfires. Others are putting in more fences to manage grazing stock better or are erecting new, predator-proof ones.
Farmers and landholders are benefiting from an ever-expanding range of products that make fencing easier, more effective, and longer-lasting. And there’s been a surge in Australian-made products.
Nicole Davidson does a daily dispatch of products to the local post office. Almost every day, she’s sending a parcel to a new and unexpected destination.
She is constantly amazed by the global reach of online.
“When we first started in business 30 years ago, we handed a photocopied sheet into mailboxes, and we did that once, and that was the only advertising we did for 25 years,” Ms Davidson said.
Tim Thompson marvels at the inventiveness of these innovators. Some of them are farmers who’ve turned their idea into a product. Others like Nicole and Rod Davidson are engineers who saw a gap in the fencing market.
“They’re quirky, they’re interested in how things work. They’re interested in how little things work,” Mr Thompson said.