Monday, February 26, 2024

Focus: Smooth switch for Meath Farm Machinery in Dundalk

Focus: Smooth switch for Meath Farm Machinery in Dundalk

Focus: Smooth switch for Meath Farm Machinery in Dundalk. In business, there is a fine line to be drawn between disruption and transition, and certainly in the agricultural retail business, a smooth change is much preferable to an abrupt adjustment to the status quo.

This is not always easy to do, but it appears to have been achieved by Meath Farm Machinery, as it took on the sales area of Hanlon Machinery when John Deere terminated the latter’s franchise agreement back in July of last year.

All of the big manufacturers have been consolidating their dealership network, and John Deere has been at the vanguard of this general movement towards fewer, but bigger, dealers – however, that does not mean that the expanding companies jump into a newly-acquired area with big boots and all guns blazing.

Softly softly

That is an approach that Meath Farm Machinery has scrupulously avoided over the past few months, as it absorbed the new business, but now that it has done so, it recently held an open day at the Dundalk premises, previously occupied by Hanlon Machinery.

Meath farm machinery yard
Visitors on the day were with a yard well stocked with new machinery

Although it might have been seen as a foregone conclusion, the decision to continue with the business in Dundalk was not an automatic one, nor was it immediate.

That said, there are great advantages to the arrangement, not least of which is that the familiar faces are retained, maintaining the confidence of the customer base that it will be business as usual, the only significant difference being the name on the paperwork.

Getting stuck in

Eoin Hannon, the new depot manager, and former sales manger at Meath Farm Machinery’s Navan office, is full of enthusiasm for the new venture, and is committed to continuing with the service and support that the local farmers are accustomed to.

Management team at Meath Farm Machinery
L-r: Mel Guinan; Peter Timmons; Eoin Hannon; Alexandra Bill; Ian Timmons; Brian D’arcy

The retention of staff was a vital part of the transfer. All at the Dundalk premises were approached with the offer to continue in their present positions, and the majority agreed to do so.

The building itself was taken on a five-year lease, with the option of extending it further if required.

There was though, still the the task of stocking and preparing the premises for business, and it is this which took place over the course of two months – leading to the official opening this month.

Fuel bunker at Meath Farm Machinery
New stock includes this towed fuel bunker, the latest offering from Tyrone Trailers

Now that the transfer has been completed, it is time to look forward and address the 2024 market for machinery.

This is not an easy task, given the present uncertainties and the return of negative outlooks for the agricultural supply business.

Volume down, technology up

From the open day, two major guiding principles emerged, the first is that sales are not going to be as buoyant as they have been over the past three years, while second is that digital technology is going to play an increasing role in dealer income.

A fall off in sales is being forecast throughout the industry, and it is pointed out that tractors and equipment will still be sold, just not as much this year as last – which also started off under a cloud of uncertainty.

Tractor with sold sticker
Despite the glum predictions there was still a good number of sold stickers on display

The increasing role of digital technology as an income stream is something that may not be exclusive to John Deere, but it is a facet of modern machinery sales that John Deere has picked up and ran with to a greater extent than other players in the market.

Used tractors at Meath Farm Machinery
Trade ins are not quite so easy to dispose of presently, yet farmers still expect a good price for their old kit

Mel Guinan, general manager for John Deere Ireland, agrees that his company is heading for a situation where it is seen primarily as a technology provider with the sale of machinery being almost an addition to this new core business.

Meath Farm Machinery partner in technology

This is a large shift in focus for a company that has built its position and reputation on nearly 200 years of metal bending, yet it is one that might seem inevitable, with the global drift of manufacturing towards lower cost countries.

He also confirmed that John Deere is another manufacturer that believes in the long-term future of the diesel engine.

There is, he points out, no viable alternative for off road vehicles at present.

Cab interior
Three screens relay information to the operator and office on tractor functions and field operations

Will it eventually transpire that the company has made the right decision in focussing on digital technology, rather than pursuing other energy sources as others have done?

The answer is not yet apparent, but the investment it has made has every chance of paying off.

Fourth strand at Meath Farm Machinery

This attention to the new income stream manifests itself at ground-level in the form of the three traditional departments of a dealership – sales, parts and service now being added to by a precision ag-section.

Niall Marron currently serves all three Meath Farm Machinery depots in this position, and from early spring onwards is kept busy supporting customers who are starting to take the digital management of operations, and the farm in general, more seriously.

Seed Drill at Meath Farm Machinery
Implement manufacturers are having to get with the digital swing as well

A major task faced by both him and the company is making farmers aware of just what is now possible, and just where farmers can obtain sound advice on what is out there.

In John Deere’s case, this is compounded by its claim to be ten years ahead of the competition.

The new landscape

To summarise the company’s present position, it has created a digital environment within which its products not only perform the normal operations, but can also contribute to the overall management and efficiency of the farm – with all of this being done in house.

Toy tractors
The next generation will be familiar with both digital technology and green tractors

On-board capabilities have not been ignored either, yet little favour is to be gathered by claiming that operators capable of getting the best from modern machinery are scarce.

This is a natural consequence of machinery becoming ever more complex, a complexity that is to be met, it seems, with ever more complexity in the form of automation, yet somebody still has to set up these routines, such as headland turns, in the tractor. This applies to all manufacturers.