What tractors do farmers in South Africa buy?

South African farmers have a ridiculous choice of models and brands considering the overall size of the current market, explains Arthur Gray

The South African tractor market used to average about 14,000 units a year. But in 1981 the government imposed rules that stipulated that, within a year, all tractors and trucks imported into the country had to be fitted with locally manufactured engines.

This caused a massive surge in the sales of the last fully imported models, resulting in all-time record sales of almost 25,000 tractors. From then on it was all downhill, hitting a low point in 1992 at about 2200 units.

When the protection on locally manufactured engines was removed in 1994, sales gradually picked up and now average more than 5000 units a year. But there is no way it will ever go back to the heady days of the seventies.

* How many tractors over 45hp were sold in 2009 in South Africa?


* How does that compare to 2007 and 2008?

Sales dropped from the 2008 figure of 7338, which was the best for more than 20 years; 2007 sales were 5084, about 10% under the five-year average.

* How is the tractor market holding up so far in 2010?

It’s at about the current average with the industry forecasts ranging between 5000 and 5500 units for the year.

* How many combines were sold in 2009?

275 – many of these being big units operated by contractors.

* What are the best-selling tractor brands?

Not unlike the situation in the UK, specific statistics on the market share of the various brands are a closely guarded secret. But it appears that this year Landini has usurped long-time market leaders John Deere for top spot, followed by New Holland, Massey Ferguson, Case IH and McCormick.

These six brands dominate the market and the other 15 compete for what is left. Among the also-rans, Chinese maker Foton, sold in Europe as Europard, is making some headway with more than a 1000 units sold since the brand was launched in 2005.

Same Deutz-Fahr has also recently mounted a sales push with a new franchise holder.

* What is the average tractor hp?

Just under 100hp.

* How much has that gone up over the past two to three years?

The average power of the tractors in the total park has increased by about 18% over the past ten years but the rate of increase appears to be declining. The current total horsepower of the overall tractor park is only marginally less than it was 10 years ago, but the size of the park has gone down to about 68,800 units as the average tractor power has gone up. In years when the maize farmers are making money the bigger tractors sell best, in other years the average power of units sold is lower.

* What are the best selling individual tractor models?

Massey Ferguson claims that its Brazilian-sourced MF440 was the best selling tractor in South Africa for the five years from 2004 to 2008. Currently it appears that the John Deere 6630 MFWD is in top spot followed by the Landini Powerfarm 95, MF440 and the New Holland 8030, also manufactured in Brazil.

* What sort of cultivation equipment do farmers use?

Heavy-tined, deep-working chisel ploughs and heavy offset disc harrows have been popular since the 1960s. They greatly speed up cultivation after maize crops and helped conserve moisture by leaving large quantities of crop residues worked into the top few inches of soil.

* Do farmers still plough?

A lot of land is still ploughed regularly. Small-scale farmers use locally manufactured ploughs that most UK farmers would regard as very basic, with no coulters or other refinements. Larger operations, with big tractors, are now using more sophisticated imported units such as Kverneland and Gregoire Besson.

* How important are seedbeds?

Not very. Farmers are exceedingly cautious about preparing fine seedbeds for anything other than vegetable crops because in the hot sun the dangers of wind erosion and loss of moisture are ever present.

* Is min-till practised?

Yes. After harvest, planters are often the only implements to go into the field (with only the intervention of a sprayer to kill off the weeds). Some very successful units are manufactured locally, but there is an increasing tendency to import machines from South America, where conditions are similar to those in South Africa.

Brands such as Kuhn Metasa, Vence Tudo, Marchesan and Jumil from Brazil and Apache from Argentina are becoming very popular. There is also interest in machines from Australia, which also has a climate similar South Africa.

* What does a litre of tractor diesel cost?

R7.88 which equates to £0.71/litre

* Is there an equivalent to red diesel?

Farmers can claim a tax rebate equivalent to about 5% on the cost of diesel used for farming operations

* Do farm trailers on the road have to have air brakes?

Trailer braking is a very grey area and has been for years. The law specifies that tractor trailers should have brakes that meet South African Bureau of Standards specifications and which can be operated by the tractor driver. However, this is often interpreted as a simple hydraulic valve, which means that the brakes are either fully on or off.

In the flat zones in the main maize-growing areas it is not uncommon to see quite large four-wheel grain trailers with no brakes at all.

* Is there an annual roadworthiness test for tractors?

All vehicles, including tractors, only have to have a roadworthiness test if they change hands. The longer they have had one owner, the less likely they are to be roadworthy.

* What is the minimum age you can drive a tractor?

To drive a tractor on the road you have to have a light vehicle licence, so the driver would have to be at least 18 years old. There are no age restrictions on driving tractors off the road.

You can read about the tractor markets in Germany, Finland, Brazil and Canada by going to www.fwi.co.uk/foreignfields. We’ll be featuring other countries’ tractor and machinery markets in the near future.