Importing UK tractors is a time-honoured method of entry into the Irish machinery sector and there are many dealers which owe their existence to the trade with a second or even third generation carrying on with the family business.

This tradition, however, is now under threat, not from the red tape and extra costs of Brexit, but from a lack of suitable tractors being available on the British market.

UK tractors 40hp ahead

The problem is one of power. In Ireland, the average power of new tractors has only just climbed over 120hp; in the UK the figure now stands at 168hp, a figure which is showing a 1hp increase per year on average.

Tractors are often renewed at the end of their leasing deal, five years being the norm. This means that the trade-ins, which frequently found a new home in Ireland will, on average, be around 162hp.

Tractors of this size and age will invariably be of six cylinders and have a long wheelbase. This is not a problem in the UK where the tillage sector dominates and yards are bigger.

In Ireland, the demand for used tractors comes mainly from stock farms which are looking for more compact models of around 120hp.

This mismatch is becoming ever more acute as gateways rarely get wider, no matter how many times the piers get knocked, and any jobs requiring more than 120hp are more likely to be given to a contractor.

Limited demand for bigger models

Certainly, there is a limited demand for larger tractors, but it will come mainly from contractors rather than the bread and butter business of local farms.

Presently, there are tractors of the right size still available, but all the dealers who bring them in are saying that sourcing them is becoming more difficult each year.

uk tractors dealer
Not all dealers are afraid of the unknown and will happily stock alternative brands

The situation is not helped by the preference of Irish customers for the big three marques, Massey Ferguson, John Deere and New Holland, the latter being by far the most sought after.

Although franchised dealers will buy their own brand to import, non-aligned retailers tend to avoid less popular makes despite them being machines of equal repute and reliability, further reducing choice.

A matter of trust

Brexit did encourage some dealers to look to the continent as an alternative source, but such forays tended to be short-lived with mention of the language barrier and hints of certain countries keeping the best for themselves and only letting the problematic tractors go.

The used tractor trade did, and still does, rely to a huge extent on the faith placed in UK dealers to give a fair deal.

Irish buyers will tend to each have a small cohort of suppliers with which they do business based on mutual trust, with tractors being bought over the phone, sight unseen.

This informal system has served Irish agriculture well over the years but the squeeze on supply may require farmers to broaden their horizons and plump for machines that do not carry one of the famous three liveries if they wish to buy a tractor from the UK.