Tractor sales keep on rising… for now

A total of 858 tractors were registered in February 2009, says the Agricultural Engineers Association, 24% more than in the same month in 2008.

That brings sales for the year so far to 1648, 13% more than the same period last year.

Both figures are higher than many in the industry expected and are partly accounted for by a carry-over of orders placed at the end of the last year. Other factors have been the relatively good prices achieved last harvest and the boost to SFP cheques from the slump in the value of sterling.

But tractor sales are also traditionally viewed as a good indicator of farmers’ general cheerfulness. So the buoyant figures suggest continuing confidence in the food and farming industry, particularly in comparison with the economic woes in almost every other sector of the economy. That’s despite feed wheat prices £75/t lower than this time last year

But tractor purchases in 2008 were 28% above their 10-year average, so many in the industry expect sales to level out as the year progresses and probably drop in the run-up to 2010.

A glance back at the figures for the last decade also shows a striking change in the horsepower of tractors sold. Go back just a decade to 1998 and more than half the new tractors (5052) on UK farms mustered less than 100hp.

There were quite a few models sold (3590) in the mainstream 100-150hp band, but just 604 in the 150-200hp bracket. A truly measly 211 tractors with more than 200hp under the bonnet were sold that year.

How different it all is today. That sub-100hp band has shrunk to less than a quarter of the market (4043). The 100-150hp category is now the dominant one, accounting for nearly half the total market (7517).

The 150-200hp bracket is much bigger, too, with 4273 tractors sold last year, seven times more than in 1998. And the over-200hp market? It’s now six times bigger in unit terms than it was in 1998, with 1271 sold.

The last decade has also seen a continuing decline in sales of two-wheel-drive tractors. Forty years ago they were the standard item for almost all farmers, other than those lucky enough to have a 4wd County, Roadless or Doe Triple D. But 2wd tractors over 80hp accounted for just 20 sales in 2008.

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