16 April 1999

TRACTOR FOCUS

STILLSCOPE FOR BUYERS

A GLANCE at this years tractor buyers guide suggests that UK growers are spoilt for choice. Models aimed at meeting both pocket and power requirements are offered by a wide range of manufacturers.

It has to be said though, that it is one thing to have tractors in the dealers yard and quite another to convince customers to purchase them. Tractor sales figures provided by the Agricultural Engineers Association (AEA) provide their own story.

Even so, tractor manufacture is a global business and, while most companies have reported significant downturns in their fortunes, the industry continues to incorporate new ideas into its wares.

Front suspension, automatic transmissions and self-diagnostic systems are now all part of the tractor scene and are clearly here to stay.

While such developments are undoubtedly impressive – and help to improve efficiency – it would be a brave tractor manufacturer which turned its back on the demand for "no-frills" machines – particularly in the current financial environment.

In this supplement not only do we provide a full, comprehensive listing of tractors available to UK growers, we also provide features on the all-important, second-hand market, and opportunities for refurbishment.

TRADE IS STRONG FOR USED EXPORTS

EXPORT sales are still underpinning Britains used tractor market, in spite of the strength of the £ and the reduction in the supply of trade-ins as demand for new tractors eases.

The UK is one of the biggest exporters of used tractors with shipments in the mid-1990s worth more than £100m a year for annual sales peaking at almost 17,000 tractors.

Since then the soaring value of the £ plus a slump in UK sales of new tractors have hit the export trade. The number of used tractors shipped in 1997 slumped to 10,251 worth just over £64m, but the trade is still big enough to have a major impact on price levels on the domestic market.

"In many ways the export trade for used tractors is the saviour of the UK tractor market," said Graham Stannard of the Agricultural Engineers Association. "There have been times in the past when used tractor exports have been difficult, and this has had a direct impact on UK tractor sales."

A strong export demand helps to maintain price levels for the UK trade in used tractors, and this has a direct impact on the market for new tractors, said Mr Stannard. A high proportion of new tractor sales involve a trade-in and the deal is more attractive when there is a generous allowance for the used tractor. Weak demand and falling prices mean dealers cant afford to be generous and this is often enough to persuade some farmers to cancel the order.

There was plenty of evidence of a strong export demand for used tractors at the Cambridge Machinery Sale in March. The Cambridge sales, said to be Europes biggest used tractor and farm machinery auction, is held on a monthly basis at the Cheffins Grain and Comins sale yard at Sutton, near Ely, with almost 6000 used tractors going under the hammer last year.

There are always some tractors which fail to meet their reserve, but more than half of those which find a buyer will be shipped overseas, according to Bob Hall, one of the auctioneers and a Cheffins Grain & Comins partner.

"We dont know exactly what percentage of the tractors are exported," he says. "We always attract a large number of overseas buyers and we know that they are buying for export, but UK dealers are also very active in the export trade and we dont know if the tractors they buy will be shipped abroad or will stay in the UK.

"I estimate that about 50 per cent of the tractors we sell are exported directly, and up to 25 per cent are indirect exports through a UK dealer.

"This months sale was very good. Ireland is currently the biggest export market, but we also had active buying from Holland, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Greece, Italy and some of the Middle East countries. I was not aware of any buying from the US at this months sale, but they were very active last year. We also get buyers from the Far East at some of our sales. Thailand is one of the major export markets," says Mr Hall.

Attracting buyers from so many countries helps to spread the demand over virtually all types of tractor. Elderly lightweight models like the old Massey 35s and 135s attract keen bidding from countries such as Greece and Turkey, while the medium and high horsepower models are likely to find new owners in Holland, France or Germany.

Most of the buyers and sellers at Cambridge are professionals, dealers wanting to reduce their stocks of trade-in tractors, or buyers with an order book for scores of tractors for export. But the sales also attract individual farmers and contractors who are either looking for a bargain or with a surplus tractor to sell.

Tractors on offer at the March sale included a D-registered Massey Ferguson MF390 in clean ex-farm condition, for which Irish farmer John Murphy made the top bid of £8250. It was his first visit to a Cambridge sale and he was impressed by the range of tractors available and pleased by the prices.

A Ford 3000, built more than 20 years ago but still in good running order and equipped with a rollbar and a new seat, sold for £1200, and at the opposite end of the price scale was a four-year-old John Deere 6400 four-wheel drive with well worn tyres. It changed hands for £12,900, slightly more than the £11,450 paid for an M-registered Massey Ferguson MF3655 with Dynashift gears.

Mercedes-Benz MB-tracs are one of the most sought after of the older tractors, according to Mr Hall, particularly among German and Dutch buyers, but the bidding for an F-registered MB-trac 1100 with 5447 recorded hours failed to reach the reserve at the March sale. &#42