Headline figures from the Farm Tractor and Machinery Trade Association (FTMTA) and Central Statistics Office (CSO) are always of interest and the latest numbers show that new tractor sales were up 9% in May compared with 2021, although there were still 9% down for the year overall.

This might appear to confirm the sentiment of the trade this spring which expected an easing of the boom of 2021, but a closer look at the FTMTA’s data reveals that investment in tractors may be a good deal less than the figures imply.

Devil in the detail

What doesn’t get trumpeted quite so loudly is that registrations of used tractors are down this year, and by quite a significant margin at that.

If we look at the total number of tractor registrations, new and used up until May, for 2021 and this year, we see a drop of 1,008 units, or a 40% decline.

Registrations Fendt Figures
Quality used tractors will always find a home, but they may not be so plentiful this year

This figure contrasts starkly with the generally held belief that tractor sales are buoyant in both the new and used sectors.

Not only that, but it is also thought that hold ups in tractor production due to component shortages would encourage sales of second-hand machines, such substitution does not appear to have happened this year.

No single reason

There are several factors which may account for this. The first is the cost of inputs, fertilser in particular. This will have constrained budgets and farmers will have thought twice about upgrading their tractors.

The second is the increased price of used machines. The traditional source of second-hand machinery was always the UK, but used machines in Britain have risen in price and sterling has remained strong against the euro.

FTMTA figures used
Used tractors can help bring modern technology to Ireland

A double whammy which, according to one trade source, has reduced the attractiveness of travelling over the water with a fistful of cash looking for a bargain.

A third reason suggested is that there is a shortage of used tractors coming to the market in the countries that would normally export to Ireland, implying that they are being retained rather than traded in, or being sold elsewhere at a better price.

Impact on Irish agriculture

It is hard to gauge as to the importance of this decline in the import of used tractors, yet it is clear that the modernisation of the Irish tractor fleet operates at two levels.

The first is brand new tractors direct from the factory and the second relies on imported machines that are just a few years old. These may not harbour the latest technology, but they still represent an updating of the tractor pool overall.

Tractor sales figures
Healthy sales of new tractors help keep Ireland up to date with the latest developments in design and technology

While a dramatic decline in tractor imports may not immediately ring any alarm bells, the long-term effect will be to slow the adoption of technology within Irish agriculture to some degree, especially as the number of imported machines normally outweighs that of new tractors.

Brands battle in registration figures

Elsewhere in the FTMTA data, there is a breakdown of sales by brand for May of last year.

Tractor sales 2021
New Holland led Massey Ferguson by three unit sales in May 2021

The figures show that the top three manufactures are still locked in the perennial struggle for dominance in the Irish market with John Deere and CNH level pegging at 52 units, while AGCO sits just behind at 50.

At the brand level, New Holland sold 35 machines, Case 17 and Massey Ferguson 32. However, it is worth noting that CNH-owned Steyr tractors are also unofficially sold into Ireland, and these are not included in the figures.

Within the AGCO portfolio Valtra outsold Fendt, 11 and seven respectively, with the former also doing better than Claas (10) and Deutz (9).

Zetor tractor sales
Zetor is still showing strength in the market and is launching new models

At the other end of the table the rather obscure Austrian brand, Lindner, sold one unit, the Turkish Tumosan moved two units, while the old favourite, Zetor, saw four of its models sold.