Tackle sales show signs of recovery – for some sectors
By Mike Williams
AFTER months of gloom and falling demand, machinery salesmen are celebrating the first signs of a recovery, but only certain types of arable machinery have benefited from the upturn.
Cultivation equipment, seed drills and machines for potatoes and sugar beet are all enjoying an early spring mini boom, with some manufacturers and importers reporting a big increase in March sales leading to waiting lists for some models.
"January was hopeless for us, but we began to see signs of a recovery in February, and March was simply brilliant," says Mervyn Hutton, managing director of Norfolk based Tri-Ag. "Orders for power harrows and drills for March this year were about 150% up on the 1998 figure, and we were exactly 70% ahead on orders for Lemken ploughs.
"Its good news, but business was dreadful last year so the comparison is against a very low baseline. I have no idea how long the improvement will last, but April has certainly started very well. Our problem with some models is availability, and we have already lost orders because of machine shortages."
Viv Richardson is also facing supply problems as his sales graphs turn sharply upwards. He is the sales director at Rustons Engineering where orders for Sulky seed drills in the first three months of this year were double the 1998 first quarter total. Maschio power harrow sales soared by well over 100%, and fertiliser spreaders are also sharing the upturn.
"The increase is very welcome, but it is bringing supply problems and we have already lost orders because we could not deliver some models quickly enough," he says. "Nobody could predict such a big increase, and business was so bad last year that dealers and distributors had to reduce their machinery stocks. The supply problems will get worse if sales continue to improve, and it would be a mistake for customers to assume machines are always available for immediate delivery."
Potato machinery sales are also booming with strong demand for all types of field equipment, according to Gary Skipworth, a director of Grimme UK.
"Harvesting conditions were terrible last year, but prices are good and potato growers are not short of money to invest in new machinery," says Mr Skipworth. "Our sales so far this year are well ahead of last year right across the board. We have a very strong demand for all types of spring machinery, but there is also a big increase in the level of forward orders for harvesters.
"I am sure our competitors are in a similar position. There is no gloom in the potato machinery business at present, but I realise we are very fortunate and it would be different if we were selling grass machinery," he says. *