Kieran Coughlan: The all-consuming search for a farm machinery upgrade

Last week saw me scrambling around looking for an upgrade to our 20-year-old Matbro pivot steer telescopic farm loader.

With winter approaching, it was time to weigh up whether to give my old machine an overhaul, or take the plunge to upgrade.

For a farmer, when you decide to upgrade machinery, the search can become almost all-consuming.

The costs are high, and even higher if going for a new machine.

But going new gives a sense of security, by comparison to finding out that you’ve been done, with a not-so-good second hand item.

And going new gives greater finance options, with terms of up to seven years available from some credit providers.

The number of finance companies offering credit has thankfully increased over recent years, providing extra competition, with rates available typically below 6%, and some manufacturers offering attractive subsidised finance rates.

The choice of new pivot-steer farm handlers has perhaps never been wider, including JCB, Kramer, Weidemann, Schaffer, and Dieci, plus a newcomer to the telehandler market, NC, all offering popular choices to the Irish market.

The heritage of Matbro is worthy of a chapter to itself.

Matbro was a unique company, having pioneered the development of pivot steer loaders from the 1980s onwards.

Many of these machines, such as the Teleram and TR series, are still operating in farms up and down the country, with most having long headed over the 10,000 hour mark.

The longevity of service of these machines is testament to their durability, and is probably to some degree a reflection of the big initial financial outlay for such machines, which makes continuing overhaul maintenance to extend their working life more likely, to get the best return from the initial outlay.

Matbro seemed to have gained a strong foothold in Ireland during the 1990s, albeit the number of competitors at that time was relatively low, with Sanderson and JCB providing the main competition in the pivot-steer market.

Matbro began operating at a loss in the late 1990s, and was sold to John Deere in 1998.

Matbro designs were later used by John Deere in their 3800 telescopic, and by Terex in their TR200 and TR250 models.

Now, both John Deere and Terex, the successors to the Matbro design, have left the market, as has Matbro’s former competitor, Sanderson, having been taken over by Claas, and more recently by Caterpiller.

Other big players in the pivot steering telescopic market, including Redrock and Manitou, have also come and gone in the intervening period.

NC Engineering, who entered the telehandler market in 2013, has based its version very much on the looks of the Matbro models, with pin and cone headstock offering a replacement for Matbro, John Deere and Terex operated attachments.

Perhaps the timing of NC’s entry into this market is opportunistic, given the lifecycle stage of the ageing models it bids to replace.

Back then, the Matbro T280 range was listing at an equivalent of about €50,000 plus VAT.

Ultimately, the success of farm machinery manufacturers depends on the success of farmers.

As machinery prices rise, the demand by farmers invariably drops.

Back in mid-1997, milk prices were around 32 cent per litre, CAN fertiliser was trading at about €150 per ton, dairy cubes were priced at €219 per ton.

Fast forward 20 years, farm gate prices for produce remain the same or less, inputs have risen, labour costs have risen, and sadly for me, the cost of replacing my 20-year-old loader has also risen from 1997 levels.

The good news is that the demand for old workhorses still remains strong, again a testament to the quality of their build, and to their continued usefulness about the yard.

For the moment, my search goes on, with the option for another overhaul seeming to be winning favour.

As Johnny Logan once sang in the Eurovision, “What’s another year”.


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