The modern loader is ensuring its demand with faster, tougher and more precise handling. Peter Hill looks at the new developments.
TRACTOR loaders will continue to play a leading role in farm handling duties, despite the growing popularity of telehandlers and wheeled loaders, believes Louis Mailleux, head of French manufacturer Mailleux SA.
"Telescopic handlers have had a big impact in Britain but less so in other European countries," he points out.
Emphasising that the modern tractor/loader combinations offer many of the features seen as advantages in specialist handling vehicles.
These include single-lever controls for faster work cycles, more precise operation, and electro-hydraulic shuttle gearboxes which overcome the high clutch wear suffered by tractors with manual transmissions.
Both features also make tractor loaders easier for the operator to use. And with increased payload and lift height capabilities, these factors will help maintain strong demand for tractor loaders, he says.
In Britain, Mailleux importer Chillton Agricultural faces a tougher situation with industry figures showing a 30% drop in tractor loader sales since 1990. More new sophisticated models in the pipeline may help stem the tide, believes Chilltons Mike Johnson, while strengthening the companys UK market share.
Mailleux export manager, Henri Langlais, says British farmers tempted by telehandlers should not overlook the capabilities of a modern loader.
"Although a telescopic handler may have an occasional advantage with more reach and payload capacity, in practice tractor loaders are often just as capable when it comes to day-to-day use," he suggests.
"And with quick-hitch and hydraulic coupling systems that enable the loader to be put on or taken off in less than a minute, farmers can make good use of the tractor for other work."
Despite its defence of the tractor loader, Mailleux does not rule out the possibility of getting involved in alternative types of handling/loading machinery.
"We dont have the manufacturing resources for our own telescopic handler at present but we would consider any opportunity to apply our loader expertise to such a machine in partnership with another company," says Mr Mailleux.
Meanwhile, having secured a near-50% share of the large French market for tractor loaders, Mailleux is looking to develop its business through exports which, at present, account for 20% of the 6000-unit annual production.
Heavy investment in robotic welding systems and more sophisticated fabrication equipment is geared to reducing costs and increasing capacity. Computerised design facilities have eased the complex task of producing loaders to fit a myriad of tractor makes and models.