McCormick’s factory in Doncaster assembled its last tractor today (14th Dec 2007) after 60 years of farm machinery production.
The closure of the Wheatley Hall Road plant is the latest of a number of closures in Britain over the years. Massey Ferguson used to make combines at Kilmarnock and tractors in Coventry. The David Brown factory near Huddersfield and International Harvester’s Bradford plant have long since closed their doors and the same fate befell Leyland’s Bathgate facility near Edinburgh and Marshall’s Gainsborough factory in the 1980s.
Now, only CNH Global’s New Holland tractor plant in Basildon and JCB’s factories at Rocester (telehandlers) and Cheadle (tractors) remain.
Britain was the place to invest in tractor manufacturing during the early 1990s, but that has changed dramatically. Agricultural Engineers Association records show the industry produced more than 185,000 tractors in 1975. In 2008 the figure is likely to be fewer than 20,000.
Worldwide economic forces are behind the plant closures, as manufacturers have consolidated production into fewer, more efficient plants using higher levels of automation and out-sourced components.
In McCormick’s case, weakening European markets, a slump in tractor sales in the USA (the second most important market for the company after Britain) and a sterling/dollar exchange rate that makes US imports more expensive, have driven down production volumes to uneconomic levels.
“Sad as it is to see the Doncaster plant being closed, it makes economic sense to add McCormick production to the larger parent group factory in Italy,” said sales director, Jeremy Lamb. “But the familiar ‘Doncaster’ products remain in production they are already being built there and the business will gain significant economies of scale.”
The factory complex built by International Harvester started making agricultural implements in 1946 and then tractors in 1949 with the McCormick-International Farmall “M”.
Case acquired the plant in 1985 when it absorbed IH’s agricultural operations, but had to sell it in 2000 to obtain European Commission clearance for its merger with New Holland. Landini and Laverda’s Italian parent company – Argo – bought the plant and formed today’s McCormick business at the beginning of 2001.
Argo’s closure plan for the plant was announced six years later, in December 2006. McCormick’s sales, marketing, service and parts operation will remain on the site while options for relocating are considered.
McCormick marked the plant’s historic contribution to agriculture by auctioning the final Doncaster-built CX tractor. Stephen Haylock, a Cambridgeshire machinery dealer, added the specially-liveried machine to his collection with a top bid of £31,700.