Relying upon a tech savvy generation of farmers and advances in rural broadband, its founder, Antony Trigwell, has his sights firmly set on the future.

“Sometimes I think I am five or 10 years ahead of the game,” admitted Mr Trigwell. “But I have met farmers I wouldn’t have expected to be online who say they had a look at my website and ordered because the price was good.”

With a cutting edge vision, AST Direct is striving to provide more than just 15,000 online products. “I enjoy going down the farm drive, but I don’t do it just to make sale. What I’m after is sustainability and long term partnerships. I want the business to be here in 20 years’ time, and by taking the online experience to the next level, and offering advice to farmers to help add value to and increase the longevity of their businesses, I believe I can achieve this.”

From wormers, to a range of sundries, and an exclusive stock of Downland animal health products available for members only, AST Direct covers all bases.

The willingness to provide practical advice often means foregoing a short term sale but developing sound working relationships is all part of the long term plan. “I am trying to promote responsible use of anthelmintics,” Mr Trigwell said. “This doesn’t mean I just want to sell lots of wormers. There are too many farmers who have never done a faecal egg count and are using them unnecessarily. I want to discuss the options and encourage people to do counts. It’s about looking to the future and working with farmers to help them save money in the long run.”

Growing up on a farm, studying at Plumpton College, working as a herdsman at a large dairy farm in West Sussex, and a stint at Dairy Crest gave Mr Trigwell a working knowledge which is highly valued by his customers.

For dairy farmers Richard, Janette and Rob Thornton of Heathtolt Farm, Maplehurst, West Sussex, this first hand experience has been paramount in generating repeat business. “I know Antony has been in my situation,” explained Rob Thornton. “If I can’t find exactly what I’m after on the website, I can phone him up and say I want ‘something which does this’ and he can tell me which product I need.”

Alongside helping farmers, keeping costs down was a key driving force behind AST Direct. “The main reason we went online is to reduce the overheads,” said Mr Trigwell. “Our suppliers ship direct and products normally arrive within a few days. As the business has grown, suppliers have dropped their delivery fees and I have passed these savings directly on to members.”

AST membership and online purchasing is so far proving cost effective for Heathtolt Farm. “Since a van has stopped calling here, our costs have gone right down,” said Richard Thornton. “You pick things up just because they’re there, not because you need anything, and before you know if you’ve got a whole load of bits. Online purchasing is more targeted.”

“The prices on the website have also helped,” said Janette Thornton. “You can compare similar products and there’s no risk of a surprise bill if you have ordered over the phone and not asked how much something was.”

“I appreciate that there will always be a market for shops,” concluded Mr Trigwell. “But what I am trying to do goes further than peddling products. I am building an online experience with a personal approach to try to help farmers work smarter and save money.”