|A hybrid tractor – one that utilises both the internal combustion engine and hydrogen fuel cells to generate power – is within view, according to Roger Lane-Nott, director general and chief executive officer of the Agricultural Engineers Association (AEA). However, he believes for it to become a commercial reality manufacturers must focus resources on research and development, specifically energy efficiency, and brand credentials through improved marketing strategies. Mr Lane-Nott has been in the role at the AEA for over two years. The primary aim of the association is to safeguard and promote the interests of UK manufacturers and wholesale distributors, and he is thus responsible for delivering, but an inspiring 32-year career in the Royal Navy and a string of impressive positions on his résumé, indicate that he is not one to shy away from a challenge. POTENTIAL POSITIVES “We aim to steer our members through the negative impact of the recession and help members enjoy potential positives that exist in the current climate,” Mr Lane-Nott explains. “On the farm machinery side we are cautiously optimistic. Although we are not expecting the same level of sales seen in 2007 and 2008, sales are holding up well and may plateau rather than slump. In terms of consumer-driven outdoor power, grass still needs to be cut and Easter is usually a good weekend to gauge business, but this year’s was wet so we’ll have to assess later on in May. What is clear is that more people are having machines fixed. The golf sector, however, is suffering and business from local authorities is static.” France’s recent prevention of the import of UK-manufactured lawnmowers, and the lack of UK or EC intervention leaves Mr Lane- Nott concerned about the rise of protectionism.
||An area where he can act, however, is tractor-trailer braking. “A recent study showed that trailer braking does not meet current standards, let alone new standards being implemented in 2010,” he outlines. “While farmers want speed and capacity for weight, we believe the industry is responsible for the roadworthiness of every machine. There is no current means of regulation, and the last thing we want is the Government to impose an MOT in a blind panic. The best outcome would be to address the situation ourselves, now, and come up with a self-regulating test.” For some industries being in the midst of a recession is a time of fear, but not so for agriculture, believes Mr Lane-Nott. “We’re better placed than most to ride it out as farming has followed on a sine wave so we’ve been here before on a regular basis,” he argues. “I advise those in the industry not to reduce training, research and development or marketing, and not to leave their trade association! While tempering is beneficial, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. “Fuel consumption will remain an issue as oil prices will inevitably rise again soon and fossil fuel oriented business is not going to be cheap over the next 20 years. Innovation is key and machines must become as efficient as possible, in what they do and in terms of cost, noise and capacity for alternative fuel.” CEMA SUPPORT The AEA has been heavily involved in the reform of CEMA, the group representing European agricultural machinery manufacturers, over the past year. “Rather than individual companies dealing with the EC, I’m keen to push CEMA,” says Mr Lane-Nott. “The land-based industry in the UK is too fragmented to have a big voice
||and we need to improve links between the UK and Europe.” Similarly, Mr Lane-Nott wants to see the collaboration of research organisations within the UK so land-based engineering research can compete with that in Germany and the US. April saw the launch of the Land Engineering Research Partnership (LERP), bringing together the land-based engineering research community and offering the option of pre-competitive strategic research capability to manufacturers. COLLABORATION THE KEY “There are many areas where working together to improve technology can be achieved by collaboration and still allow individual companies to apply the results,” he says. “This model has worked in the offshore oil and gas industry, so why shouldn’t it in agricultural engineering?” The National Sprayer Testing Scheme (NSTS) is another AEA initiative, whereby operators agree to test sprayers to establish if they meet assurance schemes, processor and retailer production protocols, and satisfy their own desire to verify the accuracy and overall fitness of their pesticide application requirement. Results show that 47% of machines tested achieve the required standard without the need to repair or rectify. “We now have 498 qualified testers working through 270 test centres throughout the UK; farmers have done a fantastic job.” Mr Lane-Nott sees the AEA as the watchdog and signpost for the industry. “It’s an interesting time to be in agriculture,” he says. “I advise anyone in the industry to use this recession to become efficient, lean and fighting fit, ready to take advantage of opportunities when we turn the corner.”