17 November 2000


Few of the salesmen at this

years Smithfield Show

will have much to smile

about after yet another

gloomy year in the tractor

and machinery markets,

but there is some good news

too, as Mike Williams

discovered when he checked

out the sales figures

AFTER a promising start to the year, the tractor market turned sharply downwards, according to figures collated by the AEA, with an 18.4% fall in new registrations during August and a 20% drop in the September figure. The Association now expects the total for the full year to be lower than last year.

The downward trend is far from new, as the registration figures in the table shown here suggest. Reductions on this scale are obviously a cause for concern, not only to tractor manufacturers and importers facing a shrinking market, but also to the farming industry which needs modern, reliable tractor power to maintain efficiency in the competition against overseas producers.

Fortunately, the picture is not as grim as the registration figures suggest. Although there are fewer tractors, average horsepower has increased significantly as one big tractor replaces two or even three smaller ones, and the table shows that this trend is accelerating.

Average horsepower of all new farm tractors – excluding compacts below 40hp – was 116.6hp in 1999 compared with 87.4hp in 1989, and the latest AEA figures suggest that this year will bring another big jump in the power average.

New registrations during January to September this year were 5.4% lower overall than in 1999, but in the 121hp plus category there was a 9.6% increase.

The trend towards increased horsepower extends to the top end of the market where sales in the 300hp plus category are enjoying a modest revival.

This sector had virtually ceased to exist until about two years ago, but during the last 12 months John Deere, Case and New Holland have sold about 10 wheeled tractors in this power range, and there has been an even sharper upturn in the number of high-horsepower tracklayers.

Rubber-tracked crawlers

Sales of rubber-tracked crawler models continue to be one of the growth areas in the tractor market, with the big three importers – Case, Claas and John Deere – notching up about 150 sales during the past 12 months, up from about 140 estimated for 1999.

Claas, the market leader, claims 93 Challenger tracklayer sales in the 12 months to the end of September this year, compared with 80 in the previous 12 months.

All three importers have recently added more powerful models to their tracklayer ranges, taking the UK tractor market through the 400hp barrier.

"The demand for tracklayers is expanding, and there is certainly a substantial market for the 370 and 410hp models at the top of the Challenger range," says Andrew Rabett, Claas tractor specialist.

"Most of our customers are arable farmers, but we also sell some to contractors, and there is a significant growth in sales to specialist growers of vegetables, roots and salad crops. "

Although the gloom in the machinery market is well established, with shrinking sales and a steady stream of manufacturers, importers and dealers being forced out of business, a few sectors report good news. For many types of equipment, sales volumes in the first eight months of 2000 were 20 to 30% below those for the same period last year.

Manure spreaders

Manure spreader deliveries, for example, are down by 20% based on AEA figures, the bale wrapper market has suffered a 25% fall and the plough market has shrunk by 30%. Combine harvester salesmen have also had a gloomy season, with their market shrinking by almost 20% to about 570 machines in the 12 months to the end of August.

Most of the winners in the machinery market are linked to the surge in tractor power. This is a logical development, says Graham Stannard, assistant to the AEA economist, with the farmers and contractors who invest in a more powerful tractor needing bigger machines to use the extra power.

Examples include seed drills, with sales of tractor-mounted models down by 40% so far this year compared with a 50% increase for trailed drills, which are generally wider. Grass rakes less than 5m wide lost 20% of their sales, while wider versions recorded an 11% rise.

Primary cultivation equipment, often used instead of ploughing, is among the biggest winners with a 60% sales increase, according to AEA data, and this comes as no surprise to Guy Leversha, sales director for Simba International.

"The trend is towards bigger equipment which can increase output and reduce costs, and this is the focus of our sales message," he says.

"Our products are targeted at the only sector of the market which is actually expanding, and we have certainly benefited from the growth in the sales of tracklayers and bigger tractors generally. Our UK business has grown by 30% during the last 12 months, and that figure excludes the increase from our sales of Horsch equipment."

Fore-end loaders

But Mr Stannard says some trends in the market are less easily explained. Sales figures for tractor fore-end loaders have held steady against the 1999 level, which is unexpected because they are used mainly on smaller tractors, where the fall in sales is greatest, and they are bought mainly for livestock farms where investment in new equipment has suffered the deepest cuts.

"I am not sure why this has happened, but loaders are certainly having a relatively good year," says Mr Stannard. "This is also true of ATV sales. The demand for these does not appear to fluctuate very much, and I think this is probably because farming is only one of several markets for ATVs, and this helps to maintain the sales volumes." &#42

Left: Big cultivators and trailed drills have benefited from the extra sales of high horsepower tractors.

Main pic below:

Big acreage

arable farmers

are switching to

high horsepower tractors in a bid to

improve efficiency.

Registration figures

Year New tractor New tractors New tractors registrations up to 120hp (%) 121hp plus (%)

1979 29,006 97.8* 2.2*

1989 19,948 94.1 5.9

1999 11,621 65.8 34.2


All figures include compact tractors

See more