Agricultural vehicles in the fields during the soybean harvest

A global study commissioned by Shell Lubricants reveals that for every 10 farmers, eight say unreliable equipment has led to avoidable costs and lost profits, while six want to keep their equipment working for as long as possible. Despite this, nearly half of all respondents say maintenance is not a priority - until something breaks. 

Our industry report covering this research, Powering Peak Performance in Agriculture, also shows that more than two-thirds of farm owners and managers think a lack of staff expertise plays a role in equipment breakdowns. In fact, more than half don’t realise what lubrication can do to solve the problem of breakdowns and improve equipment productivity. For example - low quality oils often fail to protect crucial engine components from combustion acids that cause corrosion and failure. High-performance oils, on the other hand, contain powerful antioxidants that can neutralise acids before any damage occurs.  

Around 60 per cent of respondents to our study believe maintenance staff on their farms would benefit from additional lubrication training, external support and expertise from a trusted supplier. Many feel they lack the time to tackle this themselves because they are under constant pressure to cut costs. Others report having too few maintenance workers or insufficient information on how to maintain new equipment and keep up with the latest trends.  

Clearly then, there’s more farmers could do to get better value for money from their equipment.

Now consider these opportunities in the context of the economic realities farmers around the world are facing today – such as the increasing pressure of competing in a globalised market. The availability of cheaper, imported grain, produce and other staple crops means many farms must find new ways to compete and stay in business.

Perpetually changing regulations, increasing equipment costs and a shrinking workforce pool are only making life more difficult. Farm owners and managers are also having to respond to more extreme weather events due to climate change and rising energy costs. Increasing consumer demand for sustainable and ethical production must also be rigorously designed into the field-to-fork journey.

“60 per cent of respondents to our study believe maintenance staff on their farms would benefit from additional lubrication training, external support and expertise from a trusted supplier.”

The World Economic Forum estimates1 an additional two billion people will need to be fed by 2050. As digital start-ups and global tech giants search for ways to disrupt the agricultural sector to meet this challenge, farmers are working to find their own solutions through new technology or by diversifying into new, and niche markets. More and more farmers are also creating their own eCommerce websites and mobile apps to connect directly with their customers.  

Fortunately, tech is also helping farmers find smart ways to do more with less, from pesticide drones that spray fields in Asia, to mobile phone apps that diagnose diseased plants in Africa. There are vertical urban vegetable gardens in Europe and online communities in America where farmers compare harvests and gamble on new seeds and chemicals. The future of agricultural technology over the next decade is predicted2 to be an explosion of innovation, particularly in Artificial Intelligence and precision farming through big data analysis. For example, farmers can use drones and UAV technology, and the associated software to check for problem areas in their crops within a matter of minutes. AI software can then use this data to direct robotic systems to undertake specific tasks, including spraying and harvesting – efficiencies that help farmers save time and money, increase sustainability, and ultimately boost their bottom line.

Using new digital tools and diversifying into new markets - which are being unlocked by technology - requires specialist knowledge and equipment, which often requires investment. Recent research3 shows that even as the sector moves deeper into the online space, farmers still want the human connection i.e. advice they can trust from industry experts, especially when making big purchasing decisions.

Technology is also changing the way farmers use equipment, new or old. A separate study4 found that farmers are particularly excited about taking advantage of GPS auto-steering for tractors. This would improve accuracy, and sensors can also help control seed-planting depth or measure chemical inputs. This kind of control is especially valuable in organic farming, where chemical usage is tightly controlled.

Yet for the agricultural industry, the long-standing tension between equipment cost and usage levels will remain. While milking machines run daily, a US $400,000 combine harvester may only be needed for a few weeks during an annual harvest. As a result, some businesses are sharing expensive specialist equipment, while others are exploring rental or Uber-style pay-per-use models. Research5 shows these models are yet to catch on because of how important it is for farmers to have the right equipment immediately, when they need it - but it’s a trend to watch for future markets.

Whatever changes technology brings, any farm trying to stay in business and searching for ways to innovate needs a proactive equipment maintenance strategy. It’s the first step to increasing operational efficiency, saving money and boosting profits - the key components of a successful maintenance plan include high-performing lubricants, which requires a collaborative approach to sharing knowledge and skills. 

Whether farmers are doubling down on their core business or diversifying, buying new machines - they need high-performance lubricants and transmission oils, together with greases that can extend the life of agricultural machines and equipment.  

Yet it’s the analysis and application that makes all the difference, which is why farmers need the right associated expert services to identify the right lubrication solution, anticipate technical problems before they occur and train staff to keep equipment in peak operating condition.

As technology transforms the agricultural sector, there is even more need to work together to better maintain valuable equipment and help farmers avoid spending money on expensive, unnecessary repairs – allowing them the freedom to innovate that’s so sorely needed in these trying times.
 

1 World Economic Forum and Deloitte, Shaping the Future of Global Food Systems: A Scenarios Analysis, 2017
2 Deloitte, The Agribusiness Bulletin, August 2018
3 McKinsey, Chemical & Agriculture Digital Customer Decision Journey Survey, 2018
4 McKinsey, survey of 1,400 construction contractors and farmers, 2017
5 McKinsey, survey of 1,400 construction contractors and farmers, 2017

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