Stock and station agencies were first set up in the mid-19th century. They provide a broad range of services for farmers – general merchandising, livestock sales, wool auctions, grain and seed breeding, seed cleaning and exports, seasonal finance, insurance, real estate brokerage, machinery sales, advisory services and more. They also promote the products and services of other firms, such as insurance companies, meat processors and foreign businesses.
Stock and station agencies are unique to Australia and New Zealand – similar businesses elsewhere carry out fewer functions.
Originally, agents were paid commissions related to sales, so higher prices for livestock, wool and real estate meant they earned more. Supplies like fencing materials, chemicals, stock feed and clothing were sold with retail price margins, and interest was charged on loans. More recently, agencies have introduced fixed fees for some services.
The first agencies
The first stock and station agency was founded by Alexander Elder, a Scot, who established a branch of his family’s merchant and shipping business in Adelaide, Australia, in 1839. Elder later returned to Scotland, but his brother Thomas stayed in Australia and formed a partnership called Elder, Smith & Co. with Robert Barr Smith in 1863. Elders was later active in New Zealand, as was Dalgety, which was founded in Melbourne in 1846 as a wool merchant, pastoral supplier and shipping agent and expanded to New Zealand in 1858.