WHATS GOOD FOR HOME MACHINERY IS GOOD FOR ALL
A HEALTHY domestic agricultural engineering industry is not only good for the nation – earning welcome inward investment and sales revenues – but for the farming business at large.
True, UK farmers could easily manage on a diet of imported equipment. But British manufacturers have a good track record of product innovation and of meeting the particular needs of farmers and contractors here. So farming would, in that respect, be worse off without them.
Many such companies manage happily on domestic sales. But with a market that gets steadily smaller as farming consolidates, more are looking to overseas opportunities to help maintain volumes and turnover.
It is often a tough challenge. Developing overseas sales is no easy task at the best of times and when a strong pound is against you, life is no easier. It only serves to strengthen the position of continental competitors, many of whom already have the advantage of a larger home market and a cost edge through generally bigger production volumes.
Export trade central
For some UK manufacturers, though, export activity is as central to their business as domestic sales. And many make successful inroads into markets as diverse and far-flung as Japan, Australasia, North America, the Middle East and Africa, as well as nearer home within Continental Europe.
Though largely left to their own devices, companies are supported to some degree by the AEA – the agricultural and groundscare engineering companies representative organisation – and the governments Department of Trade & Industry (DTi).
Most obvious help comes in the form of practical and financial assistance with travel and exhibition costs in relation to overseas shows, and sponsorship and organisation of inward trade missions. More recently, the AEA and DTi have organised inward visits by agricultural journalists, hopeful of generating favourable column inches in overseas farm magazines and news papers.
At this years Royal Smithfield Show, 36 international visitors will attend as guests of UK manufacturers, with the support of the DTi. All are existing or prospective overseas agents for the host companies who hope to build relations and generate more business as a result of the initiative.
The positive impression starts with a personal invitation from the British embassy or consulate in the countries concerned. Those who accept are looked after but not molly-coddled, and are free to arrange their own programme here.
Mostly, says the AEAs Debbie Dale, that involves spending two or more days at the show, with often a visit to the UK manufacturers premises to look over facilities, other products or to undertake product training.
The promotional build-up to this years show started earlier in the year, however, with a visit by farm magazine journalists from the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and the United States who undertook a whistle-stop tour of UK farm machinery manufacturers.
Sponsored by the DTi and Royal Smithfield Show organiser P&O Events, the visit aimed to give a flavour of Britains agricultural engineering industry and flag up the shows role as its principle shop window. A pair of gleaming Range Rovers, on loan from Land Rover, helped the image-building process.
Visits to E W Downs, Shelbourne Reynolds, Stanhay-Webb, Knight Farm Machinery and JCB covered a comprehensive cross-section of products, from potato handling equipment, crop sprayers and forage feeding machinery, to specialist combine tables, tractors and materials handling vehicles.
In each case, manufacturers took the opportunity to show new or recently launched products and to emphasise the way the UKs intensive, quality-led approach to farming has influenced product development.
At Suffolk-based potato machinery specialist E W Downs, for example, directors Donald and John Rodger-Brown emphasised the exceptional quality standards to which UK growers must work and how that has put pressure on the company to constantly advance handling techniques and throughput capacity.
During the visit to Stanhay Webb near Newmarket, the emphasis from directors Mike Heywood and Allan Marshall was firmly on precision seeding technology and the companys ambition to crack the North American and Australian large seed precision drill market with technology developed from the Singulaire vegetable seeder.
The benefit of such visits is hard to measure; the AEA emphasises that, while articles on UK farm machinery and farming in general is a welcome result, the principal aim is to generate a positive impression of these related industries with the hope that this will be reflected in future coverage of British made products. *
Netherlands / Ireland
France / New Zealand
Sweden / USA
Japan / Norway / Belgium+Luxembourg
Source: AEA member survey
• Principal target markets – next five years
Specific Specific countries areas
China Southern Africa
Japan Eastern Europe
Source: AEA member survey
Country Value Share 1997
(£m) (%) 1996 (%)
Eire 55.5 21.1 +25
France 28.8 11.0 -25
USA 2.0 8.4 -9
Germany 20.3 7.7 -5
Netherlands 13.2 5.0 -12
Sweden 9.1 3.5 +21
Denmark 8.6 3.3 0
Luxembourg 7.7 2.9 -2
Spain 5.4 2.1 +25
Russia 5.3 2.0 +3120%
Source: HM Customs & Excise
Although aimed principally at
UK farmers, contractors and
dealers, the Royal Smithfield
Show also attracts an
providing a shop window for
British manufacturers keen
to make sales in export
markets. Peter Hill
describes some of the
that goes into giving
them a helping hand
Getting the message across: Mike Heywood of Stanhay Webb reveals the companys latest precision seeding technology to farm magazine journalists from the US, Netherlands and Australia.