Well-known exports from the former Soviet Union include vodka, the Kalashnikov AK-47 rifle and Lada cars.

But the tractors shouldn’t be overlooked either, says one Merseyside contractor who operates two four-wheel drive Belarus tractors in his fleet alongside a pair of John Deeres.

“Running costs on tractors have never been so affordable,” says Alan Shacklady.

“Yes, the Belarus tractors are cheap to buy, feel cheap to sit in and are cheap to run – but they are also very reliable, and you have to ask yourself what you want from your tractors.”

Based at Brookhouse Farm, St Helens, the Shackladys first made the switch to Belarus in 1988, when the Belarus machines popped up at a nearby dealer.

“We were looking to extend our fleet and grow our business, so we were in the market for a good, used tractor,” he says.

“But I realised I could have a brand new tractor with warranty, for less than I was prepared to spend on a used tractor.

It was worth a closer look.”

Such logic is hard to attack.

And in the current climate, he reckons many others could do well to consider the affordability such equipment offers.

“Okay, so there could be an image problem for many farmers, but I’m not bothered what other people think,” he says.

“Reliability and costs are far more important, and it’s on paper where Belarus offers significant gains.

They are just so frugal with diesel, too.”

The Shacklady fleet currently comprises a 90hp Belarus 920 with front-end loader that has clocked up 900 hours, a 105hp 952 with 5000 hours on its clock and two John Deeres – a 105hp 6506 with 4800 hours on board, and a 120hp, 6520 that’s just approaching 3000 hours.

“We paid £38,000 for our six-month old Deere 6520, but just £13,800 for a new Belarus 920 from Belarus importer Malcolm Brown of Browns of Liversedge,” he says.

“You’ll probably lose on residuals if you go anywhere other than back to Malcolm Brown, because he knows their true value and often has an outlet for used models.”

He says the financial gain is eroded considerably as horsepower increases, and the six-cylinder Deere offers a longer wheelbase and more stability for handling the firm’s plough and power harrow/drill combination.

But the Belarus 920 suits bale handling and trailer work, while the 952 spends its days spraying and top dressing.

“The 952 has a raised front axle and offers great underbelly clearance, so it has a useful purpose spreading and spraying,” he says.

“From an operator’s perspective, they are not in the same league as our two Deere’s – but it depends on what you’re looking for,” he says.

“They’re not a cab to spend very long days in.”

“There are no refinements at all – there’s no shuttle box, no powershift and no electronic hydraulics,” he adds.

“It’s all levers, which is straight forward because you can put anyone on them, without the need to spend two days training on how to get the best from your tractor.”

Mr Shacklady adds that being mechanically simple tractors, they are easy to maintain and repair, if needed.

“We could put a clutch in them ourselves for about £100,” he says.

Reliability however, has not been an issue.

He does point out that the brakes have been lousy, but later models come with oil-immersed stoppers.

“We intend to keep a mixed fleet – we can’t afford not to,” he says.