There is an air of cautious confidence among machinery dealers in the south west, despite there being fewer farmers and fewer dairy herds in the area than there were 10 years ago.

But that feeling is believed to have come from those who are planning for the long term, with tractors and equipment slowly being replaced.

Rob Uphill of Uphill and Son, based at Chewton Mendip, near Bath, believes that many dairy farms have recently been reinvesting, albeit slowly, after a few years of holding back.

And he reports that business has been steady – but still tough – among his firm’s McCormick, Kverneland, JCB, Lely and Welger franchises.

“We have battled through several tough years, so we have an idea of how difficult it has been for our customers, too.

But we are finally starting to see some slight growth in sales across the franchises we sell,” he says.

“Our tractor sales are at least maintaining last year’s levels, helped by interest in loader-tractors for those who don’t need telehandlers.

But as a result, sales of new telehandlers have been slow.”

However, he does recognise the strength of JCB’s brand, which rarely means there is a problem selling used telehandlers.

“There is always someone who wants a used JCB,” he adds.

But the change in the way business now takes place has meant that customer service has risen to the top of the pile.

“We’ve tried very hard to build a good reputation for service and repairs, too,” he says.

“Where we might have had to travel just 15 miles from base 20 years ago, that area has increased to around 40 miles.

“The larger area hasn’t given us any extra customers, but it just helps us to look after the business we’ve generated through increased customer service,” he says.

“Hopefully, that customer service will be repaid with some loyalty when customers decide to replace tractors and machinery.”

Mr Uphill has seen the demise of many dairy herds, but he reckons that those who remain are prepared to invest in the business and develop what they have.

As a result, sales of kit such as bedding and feeding equipment have been buoyant as farmers recognise the savings that can be made with labour and straw simply through improving mechanisation.

“Taarup straw shredders are giving customers those improvements in efficiency, as are Welger grass products, too,” he says.

Mr Uphill believes that there won’t be any sudden surges in business over the coming 12 months.

“There is still uncertainty over the future of farming in this area and the milk price could do with being higher to reflect the true value of production, but I’m hoping that our customers will gain the confidence to make further investments in their businesses,” he says.

It is a similar story at MF dealership Shaftesbury Tractors, where general manager Ken Puttick has seen most tractor sales business conducted by contractors.

“Contractors seem to be the ones who are investing heavily to give their customers the service they expect,” he says.

“It’s regular trade, too, as contractors do swap equipment to keep their fleets efficient and reliable.”

But with a feeling of optimism, Mr Puttick reports that MF tractor sales are growing steadily, and since the firm took on the Pottinger franchise in 2005, he adds that rake and mower sales are also brisk.

fwfeatures@rbi.co.uk