National Farm Machinery Show

Visitors to the National Farm Machinery Show check out some equipment. Company representatives indicated they don’t anticipate huge sales of this large equipment, although many expect to see a pickup in sales of smaller machines.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Farm equipment manufacturers expect slow but steady growth in 2020 as the ag economy continues to seek a breakthrough.

Company representatives showing off their latest wares at the National Farm Machinery Show here Feb. 13 indicated they don’t anticipate huge sales of big equipment, although many expect to see a pickup in sales of smaller machines.

Todd Debock, who deals largely with tractors under 100 horsepower for New Holland, said the outlook for midsize machines is good.

“I see continued strength, especially on the bottom end, under 20 horsepower,” Debock said. “I see the industry being up for the year. I see the 20- to 40-horsepower and 40 to 60 being flat. There has been a little bit of a downturn in the 60- to 100-horsepower range. In general, the equipment demand on the stuff I deal with is pretty strong.”

Paul Manger of Kubota anticipates minimal movement on sales but isn’t pessimistic.

“We think that this year will be around the same as last year. We may see a little bit of growth,” he said. “We’re not anticipating a decline, and we’re not anticipating rapid growth. We’ll hold our ground. We can expect growth over last year. Single digits or something. On the tractor side — especially under 120 — it’s kind of flattened. But it’s still good.”

While manufacturers are optimistic, exuberance was not out in force. Sy Stevens of Case IH expects more of the same for 2020.

“Overall, we’re cautiously optimistic,” he said. “We think this year will be similar to the last two. Nothing has been crazy or in a major decline.”

David Disberger of Great Plains is not disappointed in equipment sales. He points to government assistance that has kept farmers afloat during the extended trade dispute between the United States and China.

“The Market Facilitation Program and other government subsidies have enabled farmers to have a 3% increase year over year in overall revenue,” he said. “It’s having a positive impact. If the coronavirus element doesn’t come in and start biting China, and they start buying soybeans from us, that should give the farmers the confidence they need to be able to start rejuvenating this business.”

Stevens did say some of the economic uncertainty in agriculture has affected equipment sales. Many farmers are holding off on new purchases. Still, those who farm must eventually do some shopping.

“We’ve seen the effects of trade deals, climate, all the traditional variables” he said. “A lot of folks are holding on to their equipment. Sooner or later, it gets to that time where they’re going to be looking to replace some of that equipment. It’s starting to age or coming off a lease.

“When it comes down to it, they’re going to look at what is going to optimize their productivity and decisions they need to make to empower that.”

Ray Gherardini, who oversees sales of smaller machines for John Deere, echoed the views of his colleagues. Deere expects a steady increase in sales of lower horsepower models, and slower but steady sales of large, commercial machines.

Compact utility models such as the 66-horsepower 4066M have been popular offerings for those with needs on smaller farms or livestock operations.

“We’re targeting a certain customer with these,” Gherardini said. “In livestock, it’s something to get in those tight spaces, chicken houses and stalls. It’s something we’re expanding on. There are options in the larger tractors, but in the 4 series we haven’t really done that so much.”

New Holland’s Debock said the economy is in a good place for lower-horsepower equipment this year.

“It’s usually tied to the general economic conditions,” he said.

“If the automotive industry begins to decline, there’s usually a nine-month lag. They’re calling for all highs this year, so it’s pretty strong. We have low unemployment, and the stock market is doing well.”

Manger said caution may be giving way to more optimism that can boost sales.

“People have been hesitant,” he said. “It looks like there’s a brightness on the China side. It’s hard to judge what the downstream effects are. It’s very complicated.”

Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.