Farmer doing maintenance on harvester

Around the world, farmers are talking about how rising equipment costs are adding to the pressure they’re already feeling, working in an industry so transformed by globalisation.

In Germany, a farmer will tell you how two harvesters now cost what five did, back in the 90s. In America, another discusses the challenge of still paying off tractors years after buying them. Equipment upgrades requiring expensive new parts are frustrating farm managers in China.

And yet, Shell Lubricants’ latest global research shows nearly half of all farmers don’t prioritise maintaining and protecting the equipment they have currently. It is only when equipment breaks down that they realise the effect on their operation. As a result, eight out of 10 farmers are forced to spend hard-earned money repairing broken and unreliable machines.

Farming is a capital-intensive business. Aside from the cost of the land, particularly in developed nations, buying workhorse vehicles like tractors or harvesters can be hugely impactful. For static machinery on dairy or wheat farms, or custom-made equipment, the required investment can be even higher. 

Keeping up with constantly changing regulations, new technology, extreme weather and rising energy costs make turning a profit even more difficult. Farmers are rarely cash-rich and some are diversifying into niche markets or sharing equipment with new Uber-like models. 

In this environment, valuable assets have to perform well - for as long as possible. If a large four-wheel-drive tractor and cab costs over US $75,000 to buy, and is used for 20 days a year, it needs to last 25 years to earn its keep. On top of that, it needs to remain in peak condition to handle the long, gruelling days out in the fields. 

When it comes to equipment that is used more frequently, and static machinery that runs daily, maintenance is even more crucial. For machines that are customised to fit into specific building types or serve a specific purpose - replacing these assets can lead to enormous expense. In short, farmers need agricultural machinery that runs effectively and efficiently on any terrain, come rain or shine. Longevity is critical, as is availability. 

“80 per cent of farmers believe effective maintenance can lead to cost savings”

The question then, is: How can farm owners and managers get the best possible performance out of their machines?  

The answer is high-quality planned maintenance and lubricants that keep equipment in peak operating condition. The right combination of these factors can significantly reduce wear-and-tear and prevent corrosion, which in turn can save a farm from a broken-down vehicle and lost time and money. 

An effective oil monitoring programme can increase the intervals between oil changes, which means bigger savings and higher financial returns. For one farm, that saving has amounted to over £15,000 a year.  

Happy Valley farm in Malaysia set out to extend the oil drain intervals (ODIs) for its fleet of Ford New Holland 6610 tractors. With a maintenance plan and high-performance oil, the tractors’ running time increased almost three-fold from 500 to 1,300 hours. By looking after the transmission and hydraulic systems in the tractors, the farm achieved a 160 per cent boost in performance and productivity. This meant less downtime and more operational flexibility for the fleet.   

Our new industry report, Powering Peak Performance in Agriculture, shows nearly 80 per cent of farmers believe effective maintenance can lead to cost savings. And yet 86 per cent have experienced equipment breakdowns in the past three years. The issue is that more than half don’t realise lubrication is a major part of the solution. Many farm managers simply don’t have the time to deal with maintenance issues or to keep up with the latest technology and trends. The majority say they would welcome extra training and support from a trusted, external partner.

Farmers need the right support and partnerships to help them bridge this knowledge gap and provide the necessary support to ensure their equipment works as hard as they do. On top of providing superior lubricants, transmission oils and greases, which optimise fuel efficiency and keep agricultural machines running longer, a valuable partner should have long-standing expertise in the agriculture sector. As well as a deep understanding of the trends likely to impact farmers’ businesses. 

At Shell Lubricants - we know what matters to farmers and invest in training resources designed especially for maintenance teams, such as Shell LubeAdvisor, LubeAnalyst and LubeCoach. These help our customers keep equipment ready for when it’s needed, and includes product consolidation and ways to better handle, dispense and dispose of lubricants and greases. This comprehensive approach enhances every aspect of the farm’s machinery maintenance process, helping farmers succeed.

As a global partner we also have the international expertise needed to cut costs and help explore new opportunities, helping farms stay competitive and giving their owners the freedom to innovate. For a Russian farmer that may mean cutting down the number of tractors through the use of smart technology. For a farmer in Mexico it could mean the exact opposite: extra money to shop around for new, more efficient machines. While their colleague in France may choose to finally invest and diversify into the organic fruit market.    

Whatever their goals, farmers who have worked with Shell Lubricants have saved close to US $2 million in recent years. Now that’s a conversation worth having.

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