Farm equipment sellers report strong demand


Issue Date: February 10, 2016
By Steve Adler
Jim Bennett of Nelson Manufacturing Co. of Yuba City says the equipment business for nut crops is doing well despite the drought and a drop in nut prices.
Photo/Steve Adler
Stuart Layman of Flory Industries of Salida says the equipment business for nut crops is doing well despite the drought and a drop in nut prices.
Photo/Steve Adler

Amid worries about water supplies and lower prices for nut crops, a feeling of optimism still permeated the Colusa Fairgrounds, as hundreds of farmers kicked tires and met with equipment manufacturers and dealers at the three-day Colusa Farm Show.

The show is situated at the heart of Sacramento Valley plantings of almonds and walnuts, meaning equipment salespeople found themselves busy talking with interested farmers who showed up at last week's event to learn about what's new and, in many cases, what to buy.

"The Colusa Farm Show is always good for us," said Jim Bennett of Nelson Manufacturing Co. in Yuba City. "The drought hasn't had too much of an impact on our business because the price of nuts is so high. The price of nuts has gone down a little bit, but we still have orders that will keep us busy through July."

Nelson has three main product lines: an orchard cab that is a certified rollover structure, a pruning tower for walnuts, and a line of orchard sprayers ranging from small power take-off units to "The Beast," a 325-horsepower machine the manufacturer says can send sprays to reach the tops of the tallest trees.

Bennett noted that there have been thousands of acres of orchards planted in the past three or four years because of the price of nuts, with more plantings in the works.

"All of those orchards need machines, so we are confident that our business will remain strong," he said.

Echoing those thoughts was Joe Martinez of Orchard Machinery Corp., also of Yuba City.

"Since 2003, we have been on overtime and every year has been a banner year," he said. "Right now, we are running two shifts, 24 hours a day, but we have been taking Sundays off. Part of the reason is more nuts going in, but also we have expanded our product line. We went from being just a tree shaker company to also being a materials handling company, and we are gaining a lot of market share in that area as well."

Martinez reported great interest among attendees in checking out the OMC Tree Seeker, an automated machine that "drives itself, finds the trees and does it all." The equipment was selected as one of the Top 10 new products to be on display at World Ag Expo, which takes place this week in Tulare.

"We aren't going to put very many out there right now," he said. "It's more than a prototype, but we aren't ready to go full bore yet. We had two of them last year and they performed very well, so this year we are going to put 10 of them out there."

Another manufacturer representative who expressed optimism for California agriculture in the months ahead was Stuart Layman of Flory Industries in Salida, who said business has remained good despite the drought. But, he added, business has taken a slight downturn in recent weeks, primarily due to a drop in nut prices.

"We saw a little downtick in the market, but I think it will come back. We start taking orders right after harvest, so November and December is our peak selling season. It is going to be a good year for us," Layman said. "I am very optimistic about the coming year and beyond. There are a lot of trees in the ground and a lot of product needed."

Bennett of Nelson Manufacturing said some farmers have told him they are delaying equipment purchases because of concerns about water supply.

"The drought does kind of affect things. I don't know how many times I've heard people tell me that they can't buy any equipment right now because they are drilling a well, and those wells are expensive, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said. "But people are continuing to plant nuts and we provide products that growers need and will continue to need. I think things will continue to be strong."

Brian Roberts of Solex Corp. in Dixon said farmers' concerns about water shortages have slowed sales for the farm implements his company imports from Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

"Things are still a little bit slow right now because there are still some lingering concerns about water," he said. "We had a good year last year and in 2014, and we expect things will pick up once we are through the winter season."

Roberts, who has been coming to the farm shows in Colusa and Tulare since 1975, said he has seen changes in California equipment sales during that period.

"The small, individual, single-location dealers are disappearing and being replaced by corporate dealers with several locations," he said.

Roberts said his other big concern is the difficult time that short-line companies have competing with main-line companies. He defined main-line as the tractors and other large pieces of equipment and short-line as the implements that one attaches to the back of the tractor.

"Solex is a short-line distributor, and we are finding it more and more difficult because the main-line manufacturers of tractors and combines keep trying to get a bigger market share from the smaller, specialized implements. It is very difficult for us working with the corporate dealers," he said.

(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at sadler@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.