Best of British: Standen Engineering

Many long-established British farm machinery manufacturers have disappeared, but Standen Engineering is not just a survivor – it is thriving.

While farm machinery sales across the sector were generally lower in 2009, Standen seems to be beating the trend. Its turnover rose more than 10% for the financial year ending November 2009 and has exceeded £10m for the first time.

Like many British farm machinery companies, Standen Engineering started with a blacksmith. The Standen family were blacksmiths in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, in the 1820s and were soon making implements for local farms.

Further growth came in 1934 when the company became Case and John Deere dealers. The retail business closed later, but until recently a relic of the John Deere link was the green colour on Standen beet harvesters. Paint for the prototype harvesters came from their stock of John Deere touch-up paint and the colour was retained when production started in the 1950s.

Beet harvesters were a big success for Standen, which became Europe’s biggest manufacturer, helped by selling 10,000 Rapide harvesters during the 1960s and 1970s.

The situation changed as six-row self-propelled beet harvesters imported during the 1980s and 1990s replaced large numbers of trailed machines. Standen needed alternative products, and it chose potato machinery, based partly on the success of imported machines they were selling.

It was an important decision backed by acquisitions, starting with the KeyAg potato harvester business in the early 1990s. Manufacturing and other rights to Dowdeswell bedformers and powered cultivators were bought in 2001 followed in 2003 by Richard Pearson’s potato machinery business.

The Pearson range was the most significant acquisition and Standen changed the colour of their machines from green to Pearson’s bright blue.

As well as machines, the acquisitions also brought in extra people with essential product knowledge and expertise who have helped to boost the potato machinery business to its current 75% of total turnover, says marketing director Alex Mathias.

There is also a big investment in research and development. The original Dowdeswell and Pearson machines have all been replaced or substantially updated and Standen also pioneered the development of three-row potato systems based on its innovative T3 harvester.

Other recent developments include the all-new T2 two-row harvester, new Uniweb and Megastar Gen-2 separators, improved BX series bedformers and a front-mounted version of the 150-70 rotary tiller/bedformer.

Standen Engineering also makes components on a sub-contract basis including booms for a sprayer manufacturer, while their Standen-Reflex operation imports specialist machines from companies such as Simon, Holmer, Herriau and Bergmann.

Company: Standen Engineering Ltd

HQ: Ely, Cambridgeshire

Owned by: Priviately owned

Employees: 78

Annual turnover: £10m +

Principal products: Standen Pearson potato machinery and sub-contract work plus importing specialised machinery