Are you in the market for a new milking plant, a new weigh scale, or a new farm bike? Youíll need to look into the various options and brands, and get some advice. Thereís just one problem Ė youíre almost on your own.

Despite farming being the biggest business group in the country, covering most of the land area, there is no independent structure for properly evaluating farm equipment and services.

If you want to compare toasters or vacuum cleaners - no problem - look up your Consumer magazine or website. But for something that can generate real value in your farm business, itís seat-of-the-pants stuff. What is available locally? Where is that ad you read a month ago? What does the neighbour use?

The best way of evaluating the current offering of equipment for NZ farmers would be to gather functional groups of gear from all available suppliers and test them in similar conditions. I propose something along the lines of the NZ Consumers Institute. There the subscribers pay a fixed fee per year to have regular, technical reports on common consumer items. Results from this comparison are used by the subscribers to help their purchasing decisions, but cannot be used by the suppliers in their advertising.

Testing of farm equipment on this scale has never been attempted, and certainly would not interest the private sector. Farmers are already paying a fee for industry good matters.

If CRI or DairyNZ researchers were to evaluate all the tools and equipment already available in the market, I have no doubt that new knowledge would be gained. This might include some major deficiencies in product line-up, gaps in the market, safety issues, product backup and support, etc. The testing could also indicate top examples of market-led equipment, and independently grade products for the first time in terms of payback time (return on investment or ROI), warranty, suitability, reliability, safety, hours saved per year, stock health benefits, staff benefits etc.

Farmer feedback on products could be sought, and woven into the reports where appropriate. By evaluating an average improvement or reduction in profitability, productivity, animal health, time saving, fuel/energy saving, staff training, safety, and any other factors helped by using the product, researchers could provide a very clear report to help in purchase decision-making.

Naturally each farm type is different, so care in setting up the model would be required, and particular benefits expanded on. Suggested areas for comparison could be farm software packages, mastitis checkers, pasture meters, bike fittings, tractor implements, electric fence equipment, solar systems, heat recovery, vacuum pump controllers, automation equipment, electronic devices, farm broadband systems, irrigators, cattle handlers, dehorning systems, calf feeders, cup removers, flow meters, pulsators, post hole rammers, in-shed feeders, EID readers, weighscales etc.

Itís more than a comparison of brands: which type of equipment purchase is likely to produce the best financial return?

Another option for expensive items would be to provide a technical before-and-after report on the results farmers achieve when installing or using new equipment. Following along with the successful Consumer model, the suppliers of any goods shown wanting would have some right of redress before the report was published.

DairyNZ and CRIs have the staff and the broad funding base to provide this evaluation service, and quickly roll out the findings to farmers. If the cost benefits from known under-utilised equipment were added up and applied to the farming sector of NZ, I am sure it would quickly amount to many hundreds of millions (if not billions) of extra annual income nationwide.

Every farmer should demand that their industry-good body makes an effort in the area of vetting equipment on behalf of their levy-payers. Letís see some action.