Saturday, December 2, 2023

Put idle machines to work

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Hiring machinery for odd jobs around the farm might become easier for farmers. Samantha Tennent reports.
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A do-it-yourself project can be hugely satisfying and rewarding and at the very least farmers learn a lot in the process. 

Setting about the job requires tools and equipment, some of which they might not have so must either borrow or buy it.

Buying machinery can be expensive and if it is needed for only the odd job there might not be much return on investment. On top of that machinery begins to depreciate as soon as it’s bought and as most is required only for specific jobs at specific times it can be a costly exercise.

If they do not buy it farmers need to borrow it but many hire places are miles away from farms and their range can be limited. Borrowing it from a neighbour or friend is fine but there is a risk the relationship could sour if something goes wrong with the machinery.

Two budding Manawatu entrepreneurs have put their heads together to create a solution that supports both machinery owners and lenders. They have created a peer-to-peer platform for machinery and equipment rental, called Gear Hub.

Like Airbnb, owners can list equipment available for hire and borrowers use the platform to book equipment as they need it. They pay the platform the hiring fee, which is passed on to the owner after covering the listing fees.

Owners can block dates when they need the machinery and accept or decline bookings.

Gear Hub will provide insurance to ensure machinery is returned on time and in the same order. It is there to support the relationship between owners and borrowers with confidence things will run smoothly.

Alexandra Tully and Scott Cameron came up with the idea when they moved into their newly built house in Palmerston North. They needed various pieces of equipment to develop their property and discovered it was hard to get what they needed.

“We needed several bits of equipment to develop our section – a roller, rotary hoe and a small digger. Some of it we needed for a weekend but other stuff we needed for an hour,” Cameron said.

“We didn’t know many of our neighbours and we knew both of our parents had the gear but they lived too far away.

“When we were talking to our parents about our challenges it was obvious they have the same challenges on their farms. They need stuff but can’t get it.”

They talked to more farmers and it became apparent it is a widespread problem.

“Most hire shops are too far away from farms and they have diggers but not farm machinery.

“You either have to hire a contractor or ask neighbour but not many people like to ask for things and timing is an issue.

“And then there’s the risk of breakage.”

Cameron and Tully continued to research, talking to large numbers of farmers. They employed business mentor Michael Voss through a programme offered by the Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA.

Voss challenged their idea, he pushed them to refine it and find their niche market and supported them to explore what is already available.

After six months of research they felt there was strength in their concept and pitched it to the Rural Innovation Lab. They secured a support programme to help kick-start the idea.

“It’s been great working with the Rural Innovation Lab. We appreciate the confidence they have in our idea and us.

“We have a group of people to bounce ideas off, quickly.

“It’s a massive pool of networks who are sitting there ready to be used,” he said.

Before working with the Lab they spoke to various website developers who had good ideas but also a sales agenda. Through the lab they sat down with a developer who helped steer them with an unbiased view.

They validated their idea through a farmer workshop and have been getting input from a farmer focus group.

“We are trying to make it as user-friendly as possible. And we know the biggest thing is we need to protect the owner of the gear.”

They see a huge opportunity with lifestyle blocks because they are small farms without much gear and need things to get jobs done but do not have the capital to buy it.

The target market is farmers and agriculture but anyone with equipment can use the platform.

“You will make money off a machine that is depreciating anyway.”

Cameron has a background in agri science. He spent five years with DairyNZ, which helped build the idea as he was working with and talking to farmers.

Tully grew up on a small farm in Hawke’s Bay. She has a masters degree in dietetics and her parents own a digger business in Waipukurau.

They had explored many ideas in the past but are confident Gear Hub will provide an easy solution for machinery owners and borrowers alike and hopefully they will develop an app to sit alongside the website soon.

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