Farming

| 11.4°C Dublin

Farming

Machinery sector keeping the wheels of farming turning

It's far from business as usual, but machinery suppliers and contractors are working around the Covid-19 restrictions to support farmers during the peak spring and summer months, reports Derek Casey

Close

A good supply of wearing parts is crucial at a time when ploughs and cultivators are working hard

A good supply of wearing parts is crucial at a time when ploughs and cultivators are working hard

A good supply of wearing parts is crucial at a time when ploughs and cultivators are working hard

Farmers are continuing to go about their daily tasks, albeit with the public health advice hopefully to the forefront of minds.

A good supply of wearing parts is really important at this time of year, where tillage machinery such as ploughs and cultivators are asked to work hard.

In the coming weeks, hopefully balers and silage harvesters will also be out and about as well. It is inevitable that parts will wear and breakdowns will happen.

Farmers may have noticed that their local machinery dealership yard looks quieter than usual and the gates may be closed but, in fact, behind the gates, these important service staff are still working away in workshops repairing machines, sourcing spare parts and, in general, continuing to be on call and ready to help in the event that a vital machine or tractor breaks down.

The Farm Tractor and Machinery Association (FTMTA) has moved to reassure farmers and contractors that continuing machinery back-up and support is available if needed, although farm machinery dealerships and retail businesses are not operating in the way they were prior to the crisis.

Precautions

Close

Irish machinery manufacturing is being allowed to continue as long as it complies with recommended public health guidelines.

Irish machinery manufacturing is being allowed to continue as long as it complies with recommended public health guidelines.

Irish machinery manufacturing is being allowed to continue as long as it complies with recommended public health guidelines.

Similarly, farm contractors are continuing to operate with a few added precautions in place to help farmers get through their backlog of spring work.

These two services will be crucial to keep the farming sector ticking over for the next few weeks until things come back to normal. Their contribution to keeping the sector working deserves to be recognised.

Last week, a guidance note was issued by the FTMTA to its machinery dealer members and is based on the updated "list of essential service providers under new public health guidelines" published by Government after the lockdown was announced.

For Irish farm machinery dealerships, the updated list of essential service providers offers an element of increased flexibility in comparison to the original lockdown announcement last Friday week. The following section which relates to parts, service and installation/delivery of machines is included in the updated list: "The supply, repair and installation of machinery and equipment and industrial machinery and equipment for essential services."

The agriculture sector (farmers) are categorised as an essential service in an earlier part of the same list, so by extension, the supply of parts and service by the likes of farm machinery dealerships and contractors to farmers is also deemed an essential service.

However, Gary Ryan stresses that for dealerships, this is not carte blanche to open the whole business as normal.

Close

Customer instructions at the Templetuohy Farm Machinery, Clonmel branch.

Customer instructions at the Templetuohy Farm Machinery, Clonmel branch.

Customer instructions at the Templetuohy Farm Machinery, Clonmel branch.

He explained: "The restrictions on dealerships as a retail business remain in place and for that reason, we need to be careful about how we operate.

"Effectively, the business must remain closed to the public and the gates should be kept closed with a notice placed on them advising that while the supply of parts and service is possible, it is subject to restrictions and giving a contact number to make arrangements - effectively a by appointment only situation.

"We have told members that the supply of parts will still have to happen in a restricted fashion. Take parts order by phone or online where possible. In the situation where the customer is not sure what exact part he or she needs, deal with that at the counter by arrangement and within the social distancing and hygiene framework set out. Delivery of parts should still be possible by courier, but it will take longer than normal probably."

Farmers are less restricted than most sectors and are allowed to go about their farming business. That would include travelling to dealership premises for collections of parts.

However, dealers are advised to handle such collections in accordance with social distancing protocols, particularly giving the customer a time to call, not having more than one customer in at a time and leaving the parts out for collection.

If possible, advise the customers not to leave their vehicle until you tell them to do so and then leave the parts out.

Mr Ryan said the service/repair of machinery on farm is not an issue and can continue. Some bigger repair jobs will need to go to workshops - this is allowed for, but dealerships are not to allow farmer customers into workshops.

If it has not already been done, the FTMTA is suggesting splitting the workshop into teams either in different and separated ends of the workshop or on opposite shifts. Dealerships are advised to take receipt of the machine in the yard and sanitise all surfaces that will be worked on. Return of the machine should be done in the same way.

Deliveries

"It is a busy time of the year and there are machines in yards that are sold and due to go," Mr Ryan added.

"Delivery is allowed and the above scenario of the customer calling to collect under strict guidelines would also apply."

"Most Irish parts suppliers and many Irish manufacturers will be continuing to ship, as will many international suppliers, and although deliveries may take a little longer, the supply chain will continue to operate.

"Deliveries coming into the business, either from domestic suppliers or from overseas, can continue to be received within the best-practice social distancing recommendations - interactions with drivers should be at a distance and kept to a minimum. Ideally, they do not need to leave the cab."

For workers who are wary of being stopped by gardaí en route to work, the FTMTA have issued a template of a letter for member staff to show if stopped.

This letter identifies that the staff member is working within an essential service as outlined in the Government list of such activities. This letter should be completed for all staff required to attend for work and given it to them as soon as possible.

Machinery production

Agricultural machinery manufacturing in Ireland is also being allowed to continue. Specifically, the document of essential workers includes the following wording: "Machinery and other equipment (including agricultural and forestry machinery)."

Mr Ryan says the guidance is clear that agricultural machinery manufacturing is being allowed to continue due to its crucial role in the supply chain for agriculture, but that all operations will have to be conducted in line with current recommended physical distancing and public health guidelines.

This means that large manufacturing plants like McHales in Mayo or Keenans in Carlow are allowed to continue to manufacture and export machinery - once they comply with the public health guidance.

Close

Tractor manufacturers such as Fendt hve put a brake on production as demand across Europe cools

Tractor manufacturers such as Fendt hve put a brake on production as demand across Europe cools

Tractor manufacturers such as Fendt hve put a brake on production as demand across Europe cools

Firms are taking comprehensive steps to minimise the risk of Covid-19 as they attempt to maintain production and export of grass machinery such as balers, mowers, diet feeders and slurry tankers.

These include, but are not limited to, moves like staggering break times for staff to comply with social distancing, allowing only one member of staff to sit at a table during break times, installing extra hand sanitisers at clock in/out stations, and installing an isolation area for staff who become unwell or start to display symptoms of Covid-19 during a work shift.

Tractor companies put the brakes on production


Demand for new machinery has cooled all over Europe amidst the crisis and now a range of machinery manufacturers are responding with production scale-backs due to a mixture of lower demand and, in some cases, restrictions to supply of parts

Some customers are understandably cancelling orders and deferring deliveries until we reach steadier ground. Tractor manufacturing is taking a noticeable hit, with big names like Fendt, New Holland and JCB all putting the brakes on production lines.

It is difficult to see when things will revert to normal because European countries are at various stages of the pandemic.

This means that even when one country can get rid of the virus, close trading ties and the constant flow of goods between EU nations means our fates are all interlinked.

Germany and France are being watched closely as that is where the European power centre lies in terms of both tractor production and demand. In Germany, Fendt is suspending the production at its Marktoberdorf and Asbach-Bäumenheim sites. Fendt says the closure of important production sites in Europe is due to a shortage of components from suppliers.

At AGCO's (Fendt's parent company) manufacturing sites in Feucht, Germany, the supply of parts is, for the time being, still ensured, so production is being continued in these locations at time of writing.

JCB has suspended digger production until at least the end of April as a result of the crisis, but have now admirably joined the drive to manufacture ventilators. These specialised breathing devices help patients who are being treated in Intensive Care Units.

The vast majority of JCB's 6,500 workforce will now be asked to stop working until at least the end of April.

The company's nine manufacturing plants in England and Wales closed on March 18 as disruption resulting from Covid-19 caused an "unprecedented reduction in global demand", but one of the plants has now been re-opened to join the effort to manufacture ventilators.

Dyson ventilators

The plant is being mobilised by bringing around 50 JCB staff back to work to make special steel housings for a new design of ventilator from Dyson. A minimum of 10,000 of the JCB housings are earmarked for manufacture once Dyson receives regulatory approval. The first prototypes of the housings were delivered to Dyson last week.

Irish companies are also involved in the scaling up of ventilator production.

Metal and medical equipment fabrication company Bolger Engineering, based in Co Clare, is doubling its capacity to manufacture and supply ventilators to support Medtronic, the world's largest medical technology company. Bolger manufactures the 'chassis' for Medtronic's ventilators from its purpose-built facility in Shannon.

The firm is in the process of hiring an additional 25 staff to help with design and production.

Indo Farming