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On Location - Woomelang North West Ag Services

Woomelang may be just a small dot on the map, but the Victorian town’s rural supply store certainly punches above its weight, especially when it comes to its bustling tyre operation. North West Ag is the leading agricultural supplier in the Wimmera Mallee region, and last year, Delta Agribusiness merged with North West Ag, also bringing this store into its network. The larger centres of Ouyen (70km north), Sea Lake (30km north east), Birchip (50km to the south) and Hopetoun (30km to the west), perhaps could have drawn away farming business, but Woomelang Branch Manager Rick Johnston is proud that many growers travel the kilometres to use Woomelang’s agricultural services, and have been doing so for many generations. “We have clients who actually live closer to the larger centres, but choose to do their shopping with us instead,” Rick says. “They come to us for their farm inputs because we go above and beyond to get what they need, when they need it.” The Woomelang branch has always been a retail hub for the district. It was also known to have housed and sold giftware in its early years. Now, there is the full suite of ag products available, including animal health supplies, fencing, poly pipe and poly fittings, car batteries, basic hardware supplies, and tyres. The branch is operated by Rick, Customer Service Officer and Tyre Specialist Steve Herath, and Rachel McClelland, who takes care of office administration. It is the only location in the network which operates a tyre business and it was this labour-intensive part of the retail offering, that brought Rick to the branch 25 years ago. “I was lucky I fell into the job, all those years ago. I love it here and have no plans on going anywhere,” Rick says.

“Tyres have always been a big part of what we do here. From the biggest header tyres to a wheelbarrow tyre, there is not a brand we can’t access. We always stock a good range of the most popular tyres for tractors and other farm machinery, and we have daily freight delivered from Melbourne, so there is nothing we can’t access reasonably quickly.” He says the key to longevity and tyre safety is to ensure the right size and type of tyre is fitted to each vehicle and there is the right pressure applied for the different terrain and situations the vehicle or farm machinery will be used. Rick says he taught himself all there was to know about the job back then, and since taking on the role as branch manager now to oversee the day-to-day operations of the store ordering and purchasing, he’s passed all his knowledge on to Steve Herath. When Steve first moved to Woomelang eight years ago, he was still working a job in Melbourne and travelling back and forth – more than four hours each way. “It was a lifestyle change for my family to start with and we love it here,” he recalls. As Steve looks up from changing a tyre, he smiles, saying he relishes that each day is different. “We’ve got a good group of clients,” he says. “They’re very loyal and easy to get along with, and the opportunity to help people really offers great job satisfaction.” The tyre service is invaluable to the community, the only retailer for around 100km offering the service, whether urgent tyre changes, or servicing those with pre-arranged appointments. Steve says the tyre sales have really taken off in the past seven years, and Rick believes this is all to do with Steve’s hard work and enthusiasm for the job.

The local landscape surrounding Woomelang is mostly made up of broadacre family farms, with growers predominantly planting wheat, barley and legumes. He says properties average about 1,200ha, but can be upwards of 8,000ha. Rick concedes that as farming families have sold properties over the years, neighbours have largely bought them to expand their enterprises, so farms are progressively getting bigger and bigger, meaning the population has declined in recent times. He says it left a lot of empty farm houses and the effect of that was felt around the community. The town itself lost its right to be called a ‘town’ in recent years, however, while the population is small, the spirit is strong. Rick says the community worked tirelessly to get Woomelang officially reinstated as a town. Rick is proud to be a part of such a passionate community and the team at the North West Ag branch are involved in organisations such as the Lions Club and the Woomelang District Development Association (WDDA) – Rick holding the presidency until 12 months ago. Whilst the school has now closed, and the footy team no longer exists, the 150 to 200 people living in Woomelang are still passionate about their community, and support for the branch is strong. “We’ve been really lucky the past few years have been good,” Rick says. He says last year was the best ever on record for some farmers, with strong rainfall in December 2018 setting up good subsoil moisture for the 2019 season and he is looking forward to seeing how the 2020 season will shape up for farmers in the district.

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