In its last issue, abolsamia magazine is covering the topic More robotics and more power. Richard Markwell, President of CEMA, shares with us his vision about the most recent trends on the industry of agricultural machinery.
Richard Markwell is Vice President and Managing Director of Massey Ferguson for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and President of CEMA, the association representing the producers of agricultural machinery in Europe.
abolsamia: Lately, there is a tendency for farms to replace their low and medium average powered tractors for a smaller number of higher powered tractors. What advantages do you find in the concentration of more power in less machines?
Richard Markwell: Farmers’ decisions on the power class are typically made with the size of their farm in mind – and with a view to the specific tasks that the tractor is supposed to perform. As such, we see a clear trend towards farmers purchasing tractors that are tailor-made to their operational needs. On the one hand, this has indeed resulted in a trend towards more powerful machines.
In Europe, demand is currently strongest for tractors the 210-250 hp range. Bigger machines enable greater working width and can thus mean greater comfort and efficiency in agricultural productions processes. At the same time, we also see a growing market for small tractors around 30hp since particular tasks on the farm can best be serviced by this type of machinery.
Manufacturers have been presenting ever more powerful tractors, the 600 hp barrier having already been exceeded. Do you think one can still go much further?
Technically speaking, further steps in that direction can clearly be envisaged. And as average farm size continues to grow, there is a structural trend that favours the development of even bigger and more powerful machines. What remains to be seen is what kind of practical advantages such machines will render in the field. If the benefits and efficiency gains from such machines are sufficiently large, demand will surely follow.
There is a kind of agriculture, the CTF (Controlled Traffic Farming), which points towards an alternative direction and uses very different machines from those that the majority of manufacturers produce on a large scale. Do you envisage any potential in extending this working method to large areas with the major manufacturers developing models for CTF, or is it more likely that it will continue to be practiced only by a small number of farmers and the machines being produced by peripheral manufacturers?
The agricultural machinery industry and the farming community share a common vision: to produce more with less, i.e. to boost productivity in farming processes while at the same time increasing sustainability. One technology solution that the agricultural machinery industry has been focusing on in recent years to advance on this goal is Precision Agriculture: smart machinery allows farmers to manage variations in the field more accurately so as to grow more food using fewer resources and reducing production costs. While the specific approach of CTF – to reduce the impact of field passes by machines and thus reduce the threat of soil compaction – is somewhat different to typical Precision Agriculture applications, the structural objective is the same: to reduce production costs and increase yields while improving soil health and delivering positively to the environment. As such, I think CTF should be seen as a complimentary element in the broader quest for approaches and technology solutions that help farmer to master the sustainable intensification of agriculture.
The development and use of Smart Small Machines (with low power but with many sensors and mostly automatic, and that sometimes dismiss the presence of a driver) is also growing. But in this field, the innovation seems to appear mostly through groups of university researchers, working in cooperation with small manufacturers. One gets the impression that the major manufacturers are too busy drawing the next 'biggest tractor' and are not as attentive to this segment. Is it an observation that may sound unfair to larger brands or is it mainly a market opportunity for small brands?
I think that such a perception is somewhat mistaken. Of course, we see different kinds of innovations come from different corners in our industry. Yet, overall, every manufacturer – whether big or small – is trying to push the boundaries of innovation. Last year, the European Commission’s competitiveness report confirmed that agricultural machinery is among the best-performing industry sectors in terms of innovativeness and competitive advantage. In that sense, the diversity in our industry is probably also one of our great strengths, – as long as we find common solutions and interfaces such as ISOBUS that allow the different innovations to connect and work seamlessly alongside when being applied in practice.
The agricultural machinery industry has been going through a prosperous period. How do you envisage the next decade, taking into account the type of products that farmers will need to buy, and also the sales volume?
The market dynamics since 2009 have been very positive for our industry. 2012 and 2013 were particularly strong years. Overall demand in 2014 will be lower than last year, but we are still moving on fairly high levels – though there are significant differences between the various European markets. Looking ahead, it is hard to predict the future, particularly since farmers’ willingness and ability to invest in machinery depend on a broad variety ofchanging parameters such as input prices, weather and harvest results, commodity prices, subsidies and political decisions. This said, I think the overall structural outlook remains positive. A recent survey of European farmer confirmed that their top investment priority until 2020 is new machinery and equipment. The reasons given were clear: farmers believe that new machinery holds the greatest promise for them to improve the quality of their products while offering them greater efficiency and working comfort. With the many new machinery solutions that are expected to hit the market in the coming years, I am confident that there will be plenty of valid reasons for farmers to continue to invest.
* This interview can be read in Portuguese in the last issue (Nov/Dec 2014) of abolsamia magazine.
CEMA – European Agricultural Machinery
CEMA represents in total 4,500 manufacturers of agricultural equipment consisting of large multinational as well as numerous small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The sector has a total turnover of €26 billion and provides employment for 135,000 people directly in the sector and another 125,000 persons indirectly in the distribution and service network.