Coronavirus: Tractor sales lowest since 2001

The coronavirus pandemic has continued to hit tractor sales, with a 42% drop in registrations recorded in May, according to Agricultural Engineers Association (AEA) figures.

Just 586 agricultural tractors (over 50hp) were registered during the month, the AEA’s data shows.

The 42% fall, compared with May 2019, follows a more marked decline in April, when sales slumped by 50% on year-earlier figures.

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The two months bring the total for the year to 4,263 machines – 27% down on the first five months of 2019.

It is the lowest total for the period since the foot-and-mouth crisis shut down the countryside in 2001.

Over the past 12 months since May 2019, the total number of tractors registered was 10,501, the lowest figure since 2016.

Stephen Howarth, AEA economist, said the recent falls could be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had forced the temporary closure of manufacturing plants across Europe.

“With some factories closed, orders will inevitably have been delayed,” Mr Howarth said.

But while the virus pandemic is largely to blame, he pointed to other issues that have added to the slump.

“The market may well have been down anyway on previous years, with the challenging autumn-winter weather likely to have had an impact on orders.”

He added that uncertainty over Brexit had also swayed the statistics.

A spike in registrations in the run-up to the original Brexit deadline of 29 March 2019 inflated figures for April 12 months ago. The higher 2019 figure made the drop-off in sales this spring look even more marked.

Looking ahead, Mr Howarth said the unprecedented situation made forecasting difficult.

However, the fine spring weather had sparked a pick-up in orders for farm machinery, which could include some types of tractors.

Delayed orders may also filter through as most plants across Europe emerge from the crisis and return to normal, he suggested.