Trade focus: The tractor ‘trapped’ in Kerry that trades parts to the world

“It’s only a mannequin really,” noted Colm Clifford – describing the Massey Ferguson 240 tractor (pictured above) that sits proudly by the counter of the shop.

This is a rather modest explanation of the tractor, which was built from a kit one Saturday afternoon. It cost in the region of €12,500.

There were four of us working on it and we had it running before we went home.

It did not run far, however; it won’t fit through the door. Its total usage to date amounts to a couple of lengths of the showroom and back!

Casually assembling a tractor in an afternoon would be quite an achievement for most of us, but the four people concerned are steeped in the world of tractors. They possess a knowledge and enthusiasm for the machines that has seen the company grow into a very significant supplier of parts and accessories in Ireland.

Founded 40 years ago by Pat Clifford, Cliffords Tractor Parts still operates from the same premises at Ballymacelligott, Co. Kerry, and continues to be run by the Clifford family – with Colm now at the helm.

Noel Clifford, Colm Clifford, Pat Clifford and Pat Manigan

He is ably assisted by his brother Noel, daughter Jessica and brother-in-law Pat, while Pat senior is still involved when not looking after the beef farm.

Pat Clifford had served an apprenticeship with McElligotts, who were the local Nuffield dealers in CastleIsland at the time.

Having decided to go out on his own he started importing tractors from the UK, as well as servicing those already present in Ireland. Engine rebuilds became something of a speciality.

“When I was young the place was full of tractors with their engines stood beside them,” remarked Noel – as he surveys the shelves brimming with parts (which now fill the old workshops).

The supply of parts gradually took over. Nowadays they have 16,000 items listed on their website alone.

The secret of such an operation is finding manufacturers and companies able to supply the components. Colm points out that they can provide almost any component – for just about any tractor of whatever age (modern, classic or vintage).

It is the case, however, that certain classics are becoming difficult to keep ‘original’. David Brown is one that is particularly affected, while Ferguson tractors – right from the TE20 to modern-day MFs – are still very well catered for.

“We can sell you a new Simpson P3 replacement engine for €3,500; it is identical to the Perkins unit and is a great little engine,” noted Colm. His faith is probably not misplaced as Simpson has been an agent for Perkins in India since 1951; it now produces them under licence.

We have seen the quality of parts from India increase dramatically over the years; the metal has gotten thicker and the paint more durable – it’s these little things that add up.

However, they do not rely totally on developing countries for parts and are in a position to supply genuine components for modern tractors.

Don’t forget; all manufacturers rely on specialist component suppliers. Many items, such as filters, can bought directly from the very same factories.

Noel points to a shelf, which is full of oil filters and remarks that they cover all John Deere models.

We have to do this; when a customer comes in they expect us to have it.

Colm claims that they are able to supply 99% of routine tractor parts – either from stock or the following day.

Perhaps the most significant change the company has seen over the last few years is the swing from emergency repair and replacement to planned maintenance.

“Farmers are tending to prepare for the season ahead and fix machines before they are needed,” reported Noel.

“Many of the younger generation are very business-like and realise the importance of having the machine working when it’s required.”

Health and safety is another issue which is driving sales; PTO guards, for example, are being kept in better condition than before.

Breaking tractors

Over the years, the company has also broken tractors for spare parts. However, the supply of machines is drying up.

Likewise, they have gradually reduced the number of parts kept for implements – tending to focus on tractors instead, though they will do their best to help a customer that’s stuck.

Bearings and hoses are still an important part of the business; they have been known to open up out-of-hours when such items are needed urgently.

“We’re part of the farming community,” explained Colm. “We can’t just shut down like an office.”

Naturally, the advance of technology has made a difference. Colm is optimistic about farmers accepting the changes, while Noel believes that there is still a market for straight-forward tractors from major brands.

As for the future, they see the internet playing an ever-growing role. Web-based shopping has increased steadily over the years. Having invested heavily in their website, they are now seeing the rewards – through increased sales overseas as well as at home.

Despite tractor manufacturers trying to retain as much of the parts business as possible, Cliffords Tractor Parts is growing steadily – apparently through an eye for service and the sheer volume of stock.