Farmers in the South Island might notice something a little different about one of their favourite agricultural events this year.
Instead of taking place at Ruralco's Ashburton store as it usually does, the farming co-operative's popular Instore Days will be moving online.
The change comes in the wake of COVID-19, which has seen restrictions placed on public gatherings.
Established in 1994, Ruralco's Instore Days has since grown to be a major event for farmers in the Canterbury region and across the wider rural community. "The purpose for Ruralco is to offer our farmer members really great deals for the Spring season ahead. We work hard with all of our suppliers across the business from farm supplies, seed, fertiliser, bulk fuel and our card suppliers who are a mix of local and nationwide brands to bring the best deals for our members," says Rob Sharkie, Ruralco’s Group CEO.
This year it will be held from July 2 to 8.
Although in previous years it's been mainly South Island farmers who have benefitted from the event, the online format means Ruralco members all across the country can now participate.
"For Ruralco the silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud has been the opportunity to really turn our Instore Days into something even bigger and more accessible," says Rob Sharkie.
"We have combined the best of both worlds in this year’s Instore Days celebrations. The digital format sits alongside our traditional catalogue so our team can take orders by phone, email or online through the Ruralco website."
Although items ordered online will be sent directly to the farm gate, those keen to pick up their new goods in person can still do so from the co-op's Methven, Rakaia and Ashburton stores.
Last year Instore Days, often dubbed a "mini Fieldays", celebrated its 25th year.
The event was born from a desire to give mid-Canterbury farmers a chance to get some great deals that weren't always available locally, Sharkie says. "Plus one lucky farmer will walk away with a brand new Ford Mustang to park in the garage. Our suppliers give away a tremendous amount of value through the deals with extra prize draws and giveaways, it’s a cause for celebration, something for the whole family to enjoy."
"It's a lot simpler these days with the internet, but 25 years ago getting to the North Island was quite tricky - it was a different world."
Even today the town "draws to a halt" while the event is taking place, Sharkie says -"it's a big event for Ashburton".
Previous years have seen around 1000 people a day flock to Ruralco's Ashburton store, where its sprawling car park is filled to the brim with the marquees of hundreds of participating suppliers. More than just a chance to stock up on farming supplies, the event has always been a social highlight for the greater community, bringing farmers and their families from all over the region closer together.
The decision to move the event online this year was made in March, before the nationwide lockdown had officially been declared but when it was looking increasingly likely. Without knowing how COVID-19 would play out, the organisers had to be realistic and put safety first.
"Even if we were suddenly allowed to have 1000 people gathering, logistically you just couldn't do it in that short a time frame anyway," says Sharkie.
The company first launched its digital platform around 18 months ago, but the process of getting everything online was "cranked along" in anticipation of Instore Days.
The result is a virtual Instore Days that combines many of the things people love about the physical version with a myriad of new benefits.
"Each supplier gets a dedicated listing and their products are stored in our e-commerce store, so there's a product carousel that people can go through and have a look at. It's almost like a micro site of suppliers within our site."
Sharkie says over recent years he has seen a shift in farmers' buying habits - with more going online to buy supplies - and in the future the idea is to run the virtual Instore Days in tandem with the traditional event.
There are currently around 20,000 Ruralco co-op cards in the marketplace, and although the best prices at Instore Days are reserved for members and shareholders, the online store is open for all and there’s still time to join to get the best deals between now and then.
This article is created for Ruralco