What do the Portuguese know about cultivations? More than you might credit them for, writes Tia Rund.
WHEN Galucho director Carlos Justino briefs staff before major agricultural shows, he tells them to change the subject if theyre asked where the machines are made.
"All anyone seems to know about Portugal is port wine and beaches," he says. "But once visitors to the stand have had a chance to see all the features on our machines, then it doesnt seem to matter to them what country theyre from."
In fact there are good reasons why this family-owned Lisbon-based company has evolved its specialty in cultivation equipment to the point where it is now the biggest manufacturer of heavy duty harrows in Europe. More than 3,000 sets of discs are turned out every year, roughly double the number from the number two manufacturer, Quivogne, reckons Mr Justino.
Galucho, founded in 1820 by an earlier generation of the Justino family, had its first big break in the 1950s as Portuguese farming became increasingly mechanised. Imported machines struggled in the harsh conditions.
In the following decades, the company really started going places, developing heavier duty machinery to tap into Portugals overseas colonies, especially Angola and Mozambique, taking these markets mostly from the North Americans.
These trading relationships survived revolution and independence, to provide 8% of Galuchos total business today, and in the meantime provided another tough proving group for its equipment.
More recently the company has turned its attention toward more stable markets. France was deemed to be the most difficult market to penetrate and so became, in 1985, the first European country targeted by Galucho. Mr Justinos logic is not as obtuse as it sounds: "French farmers are probably the most demanding customers. If you can win them, then you know you can succeed anywhere."
Germany, on the other hand, was an easy conquest. By happy accident, Galuchos first interest coincided with unification and its African experience of large-scale equipment stood it in good stead in the former East Germany. In seven years the German market has grown to represent £3m of annual business. Three out of ten disc harrows sold there are Galuchos, claims Mr Justino.
What about the UK? As a nation, were certainly viewed favourably by the Portuguese. Partners in one of the oldest alliances, the Portuguese naturally turn to us, they say. Galucho suffered two false starts in the UK market with its earlier choice of importers, but for the past two years has been building more solid business through Burdens Distribution based at Sutterton near Boston in Lincolnshire.
"The UK market is taking longer to crack," comments Mr Justino, but he seems content nonetheless with the rate of progress. Burdens has sold about 350 Galucho machines to date. "In 1997, the value of exports to the UK was three times more than the previous year. But we dont expect them to increase by that amount again this year."
Apart from disc cultivators, Galucho is particularly aiming its Tilth Master cultivator at UK growers. And, again, the timing looks to be just right, as the move to find alternatives to the power harrow seems to be gathering pace.
This backlash is partly down to cost-cutting – using these machines drinks fuel and eats time, say those keen to replace them. But some growers also believe power harrows dont do the best job of producing a good tilth, and are liable to cause capping on siltier soils.
Designed to create seedbeds on heavy ploughed land in one or two passes, the Tilth Master uses the same cultivation elements, some would say borrows the same design, as Simbas Toptilth machine – a levelling bar, front and rear packer rollers with two rows of spring tines ahead of each. So, for instance, each row of spring tines is mounted on its own cross-beam, rather than being paired up either side of two beams, in which case the leading row is subject to shear stresses, according to Roger Bannister, Burdens marketing director.
Later this year, the UK can also look forward to seeing Cambridge rolls added to the Galucho product line up in the distinctive blue and orange livery. In 3-roll versions from 6-9m and 5-roll models from 9-12m working widths, special design emphasis has been placed on their hydraulic folding arrangements.
Just dont expect a straight answer when you ask "Galucho, yes Ive heard about them. Now, where are they from?"
Carlos Justino: were known for cultivators as well as port wine.