Scratch away at any thriving family dealership and you will very likely find a business with its roots firmly embedded in hard work and enterprise, and Clarke Machinery Group is no exception.
The business was started in 1975 by a young Gerard Clarke of Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, who traded his first load of straw that year, and it wasn’t long before he started bringing in machinery from the UK to sell on.
SAME and Ursus
By the early 1980s, he had acquired agencies for both SAME and Ursus tractors and soon after, these were replaced by Zetor on the forecourt.
In the heyday of tractor sales it was not unusual for the company to sell 100 of these machines annually.
Fast forward to the present day, and the second generation is now heavily involved in the form of Jason Clarke who is an enthusiastic member of the sales team at the company’s latest depot, built just north of Roscommon town.
The company has moved on once again and now holds the Valtra agency for the area. The choice was a shrewd move, for the brand was little known back in the 1990s yet it has grown to be a major force in the Irish tractor market.
Kubota is another agency held by Clarkes at its Cavan depot.
This is a brand that has yet to fully permeate the conscience of farmers generally, just like Valtra was once considered an outsider, but time will bring it more into the mainstream and Clarkes have probably made the right call here to.
Customers would appear to have now embraced the Valtra name. Sales held up during the recent difficulties and a yard is full of new machines, many with ‘sold’ stickers on the bonnet.
The popularity of the brand is due, in no small way to the comfort offered by the latest models according to Jason. Farmers, having spent huge sums of money on their tractors, expect a decent working environment and Valtra offers just that he believes.
The engines are also a great attraction. He considers the Sisu units bulletproof with many high hour models still running perfectly despite a long and hard working life.
The fact they are forestry tractors adapted for agricultural use also stands in their favour.
“Forestry work is the hardest there is for tractors”, he noted, and with Valtras being designed to cope with cold winters in Nordic forests, Irish farming poses few challenges.
Jason is obviously an enthusiastic ambassador for Valtra and is keen to show the latest reverse drive model they have in stock.
Although it hasn’t the full forestry spec, the seat is easily rotated 180° and a small steering wheel slides across into the centre of the rear window.
The armrest, with the major functions, is attached to the seat so all is much as it was when facing forward.
Although the transmission is a CVT unit, top speed in reverse is limited to half that of the forward speed, but that is hardly an issue when working.
It might seem odd that the company would buy such a specialised item on spec, without a customer having ordered it. Jason is unperturbed: “We can sell everything we buy, there is always a customer for what we have.”
Customers can be fickle at times though. One in particular wanted the precise tractor that Clarke’s had parked in the yard, all ready to go, except for one minor detail, it was the wrong colour.
The farmer was prepared to wait for another to be built and finished in a different hue, so all was not lost, but it does illustrate just how such a simple choice can make a difference, as purchasers of other brands don’t have this option at all.
All leading manufacturers are keen to emphasise the digital technology content of their products. Valtra is no different and claims to ensure that what is available is easy to use.
The price of fertiliser has been a major influence in the rapid adoption of GPS systems by farmers.
Suddenly, it has become a valued input which requires a much more thorough approach in ensuring its correct and even placement, Jason has found.
To what extent this new found enthusiasm for electronics will carry over to other functions is an open question, but the feeling is that they will have to show a clear return to the farmer to be used.
Three years ago Valtra introduced its ISOBUS based Smart Touch screen, which is mounted on the armrest as an integral part of the tractor’s controls.
Valtra has taken another step in forward in the 5 series by doing away with the traditional dashboard altogether and replacing it with a pillar mounted screen.
This arrangement of screens clearly indicates the separation of tractor and implement functions and how each may be managed by the operator.
Whether this actually helps with extracting the best performance from the seemingly infinite combination of settings available is a debatable point, but a start has to be made somewhere and Valtra appears to be applying some logical thinking to the situation.
Other marques at Clarke Machinery
Dealers do not live by tractors alone, implements and attachments are equally as important and Clarkes carry a full range of machinery.
Major Equipment was the first agency that Gerard Clake acquired and it is a company they are still doing business with today.
Other well known names include McHale, Fleming, Red Rock, Kverneland and Spread Point.
This latter is a fairly new addition and enters the market against already well established companies. Yet Jason is confident that they have once again backed a winner, noting that they are much more than just glorified lime spreaders, the company having been formed by the founders of Kane Trailers.
Going forward, Clarke Machinery Group is operating with a great deal of confidence.
It is a company that does not appear to lose too much sleep over rumours of impending doom but simply gets on with the business of selling machinery and looking after its customers. It will be around for a long time yet.