22 December 2000

Ordering your dips and vaccines on the net…

On-line shopping for

Christmas presents? While

you are there, why not take a

look at the growing numbers

of web-sites selling bona-fide

Pharmaceutical and Merchant

List (PML) health products.

Hannah Velten reports

INSTEAD of buying products such as sheep dips, vaccines and wormers from a vet or local dealer, you could consider web-sites – which offer a new avenue for the adventurous.

Many sites report increasing interest and sales. More than 2000 farmers are buying products from Wilts-based FarmExpress, says Claire Stanfield, most of these are large-scale producers.

"Isolated Scottish farmers also use our service regularly because we offer a blanket charge for delivery. We also have a range and price of products which is better than their local outlet, which may only open a few days a week," she says.

Convenience is the catchphrase of web-site buying, says Farmrites Philip Crawford. "Producers can access the internet whenever they want, peak times are 6-8am and 8pm."

When compared to vet and merchant prices, web-sites are competitive in some products and not in others, says Mrs Stanfield. "Producers access transparent national prices on the web-site, which will beat some regional prices but not all."

However, when taking fuel and time costs into account, Peter Clark of FarmHealth believes web-sites offer cheap deals. "Based on Inland Revenue allowances, a 20-mile round trip to get PML products costs £12.60 without allowing for time."

Vet and merchant livelihoods are unlikely to be threatened by increasing sales of PML products over the internet.

Vets have always been in competition to gain market share of PML products, says Bob Stevenson, who represents the British Veterinary Association on the board of the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA).

"Web-sites are an additional competitor, but vets make a margin on advice rather than selling products."

Roger Dawson, general secretary of Animal Health Distributors Association (AHDA), does not consider internet sales as a threat. "A year ago our members were concerned about web-site sales, but now many farmers are using sites as a deal making tool so they can beat down their local dealer on price."

The personal service that local merchants provide is something that distant web-sites lack, says Dennis Bridgeford, a pig farmer from Ross-shire. "I would buy if products were cheaper, but farmers still need local suppliers for advice and I like dealing with people I know."

However, John Martin, a Northern Ireland beef and sheep producer, uses the sites to look for information on new products. "They allow you to see if products are applicable to your situation."

Worries about security of money transactions are also an issue for Mr Bridgeford. But Mr Clark of FarmHealth believes that payment details on the web are more secure than paying by credit card in restaurants. &#42

Surfing the net? Why not try buying some animal health products through your computer.