British farmers are provisionally estimated to have spent of the order of £1.8 billion on farm equipment in 2014, a drop of 5% on a year earlier.

Tractors are generally the best indicator of activity and 12,433 units of over 50 hp were registered, a decrease of 0.5% on the previous year. The average power has continued to move up, to 155.1 hp last year so the actual horsepower sold rose 2.4%.

The next major sub-sector of the market is the combine harvester; sales in the last seasonal year (September to August) reached 800 units, up by some 4% on the previous season. However, the opening months of the current season (since September) have proved much weaker than a year earlier so that the value of sales on a 2014 calendar year base is expected to be 5-10% lower than in 2013.

Another major sector in terms of machine value is the self-propelled forage harvester, sales of which reached 160 units in the seasonal year – a 7% increase.  Grass growth was strong and the fodder crop was sizeable so demand for related equipment held up well whilst the increase in growing maize for Anaerobic Digesters also provided a stimulus for harvesters.

Many other machine types saw a small decline in unit deliveries in 2014 with increases mainly concentrated in grassland equipment including mowers and fertiliser spreaders, although baler sales were slack. Sprayer units showed a recovery from the poor volumes seen in 2013.

The first part of the year was stronger both for farming and for equipment suppliers. For the dairy sector in particular returns were initially very good but deteriorated sharply in the second part of the year. The year was one of almost universally falling commodity prices only partly offset by good crop yields and lower input prices.

This year sees full implementation of the CAP reforms which are not expected to have significant consequences for the majority of farmers although some may have to make material changes and all will suffer greater complexity in complying.

It has to be recognised that the short term conditions for farming do not encourage great optimism, although grain prices have climbed somewhat from their post-harvest lows, but these are early days and as always the weather will have the strongest influence. Investment in equipment is made as a business decision and will continue where clear productivity gains can be realised.