6 September 2002

Subdued sales but trend in right direction

Machinery dealers

exhibiting at the NORMAC

cultivations demonstration

report mixed sales in the

region as they prepare to

show the latest tractors

and implements at the

event. Peter Hill reports

WITH growers doing their best to cope with a frustrating stop-go harvest over the past weeks, placing orders for new kit has been the last thing on their minds.

But the decision as to when – or whether – to invest in replacement machinery never goes away for long. It is a tough call and, with grain prices far from healthy and future agricultural support policies unclear, it has never been a more difficult time to balance the purchase of new machinery against the running and repair costs of old equipment.

Tractor sales are always seen as a barometer of the health of the agricultural machinery market. And, in that respect, this year has been one of good news for manufacturers and dealers.

Nationally, sales to the end of June were up 35% over last year, when foot-and-mouth disease caused a crisis of confidence that saw many farmers, whether they had livestock or not, postponing orders for new equipment.

But stock farmers have been quick to return to the new machinery market, although arable areas are lagging, with the eastern region as a whole up just over 6% – the lowest sales recovery of any part of the UK.

Even so, dealers are pleased that the sales graph is heading in the right direction.

"Tractor sales have been up across all our depots," says David Fairman of John Deere dealer Ben Burgess. "Theres been more business than anyone could have imagined. Anything over 140hp has sold well, and weve also been busy with combines and telehandlers."

William Randell, at Randell Agriculture, is less upbeat, reporting steady sales of Valtra tractors but enjoying some success in achieving conquest deals that take out another make.

"The durability and reliability of Valtra tractors is a bit of double-edged sword as far as were concerned," he says. "Customers now realise these tractors are capable of doing a lot of hours with little or no downtime and are hanging on to them rather than changing them."

Nonetheless, he relishes the opportunity to start getting customers onto the new S Series high horsepower tractor.

"Valtra is being very cautious about getting too many tractors onto farms too early," says Mr Randell. "Thats understandable because its a big project and a sophisticated tractor with the potential to undermine Valtras reputation. But its also a bit frustrating because its a very bold, exciting design."

New models are the lifeblood of tractor salesmen and that has doubtless contributed to Burgess figures this year.

"The introduction of the new Deere models, particularly the 6020 Series, has had a big impact," confirms Mr Fairman. "Along with the 8020 Series, which has more power and features to add to an already high performance tractor, they have never had more appeal."

Sales of John Deere direct sowing and minimum tillage equipment is not so buoyant, Mr Fairman adds, because growers yet to make the conversion from conventional crop establishment methods remain cautious.

"Interest in direct drilling and mintill appears to have tailed off a bit in this area," he says. "We had two very wet autumns, and I think thats made a lot of growers stop and think about whether these techniques are for them."

William Randell is happy with the response to Vaderstads offerings this year, especially following the Swedish companys release of its latest batch of new and improved drills and cultivators.

"The kits well-liked and continues to sell well. But minimum tillage is not for everyone or every situation; after sugar beet or potatoes, which can leave a bit of a mess, ploughing is still seen as the best way to recover fields for subsequent crops."

As a result, Kverneland plough sales are holding up well in the face of the mintill onslaught and will be among a big presence at the NORMAC event, according to Mr Randell.

"We decided to forego our usual exhibit at the Norfolk Show and put more resources into the NORMAC demonstration this year. Farmers really value seeing equipment at work in local conditions, and so weve teamed up with Vaderstad and Kverneland to have a major block of land on the site." &#42

Renault Ares II with latest transmission upgrade – which includes auto powershifts – will make their NORMAC debut.

Norfolk Farm Machinerys line-up should include an example of the Massey Ferguson 8200 Series Xtra models, which get more power and torque and upgraded axles.

Normac should provide one of the first chances to see the new Case-IH MXM Maxxum tractors at work. The 177hp and 194hp newcomers have a longer wheelbase and electronic fuel injection that delivers a power increase of up to 35hp for pto and haulage work.

Trailed version of the KRM-Roger Maxidrill goes to 6m wide and has leading tine and wavy disc cultivation elements ahead of the serrated Cultidisc sprung disc coulters.