So far, North American farmers haven’t really taken to the telehandler the way their European cousins have. There’s no question farmers over there have a real passion for these machines. Of course, some of the operations European farmers need them for aren’t common here.
For example, most Canadian farmers, especially on the prairies, usually aren’t pressed for space to store hay bales. European farmers, however, often make the maximum use of available farmyard room by stacking round bales several rows high. You can’t beat a telehandler for getting that job done.
Even if we don’t tackle jobs as extreme as that, virtually every Canadian farmer has a loader tractor that sees it share of lifting and carrying.
With that in mind, a couple of companies think they can bring the enthusiasm for telehandlers to farmers on this side of the Atlantic, so they see Canada and the U.S. as a young market with a lot of room for growth. A couple of years ago I had a great conversation with executives at British-based JCB’s Savannah, Georgia, assembly plant. They said even if a small percentage of the thousands of loader tractors in use on North American farms were replaced by telehandlers, that would create a significant market demand.
This week I joined a group of dealers and customers on a trip to Italy to visit Italian telehandler manufacturer Merlo. Executives there hold exactly the same opinion and they are one of the firms now trying to expand sales here, despite a generally soft ag equipment market.
Unlike most mainstream ag equipment manufacturers, Merlo executives say they actually saw double-digit growth in Canadian sales last year. And much of that was the result of a growing number of farmers replacing their loader tractors with telehandler models designed specifically for farm work.
By offering a rear PTO and a three-point hitch as options, members of the Merlo’s Canadian marketing team say they think their machines can easily replace the typical farm loader tractor, and do a better job, on many farms.
They may have a point. I’ve spoken to a few farmers who’ve been looking at buying forklifts for jobs like lifting chemical and seed totes and being able to safely and precisely position them. Spill a tote full of high-priced seed and it can cost a lot money, reasoned one farmer. And the larger the loader tractor, the more difficult it can be to make subtle adjustments to the position of a lifted load. But precisely positioning lifted loads, even at much greater heights then a tractor can reach, is exactly what a telehandler is designed to do. And it can do it on uneven or soft surfaces, places where a forklift becomes useless.
If you also get a PTO, then the loader tractor isn’t needed to run a large auger either. Livestock producers could even use some telehandler models to run a round baler in the field.
Of course there’s likely to be a price premium and that won’t make sense for everyone. For many of those thousands of North American farmers that own loader tractors, those machines are just what the doctor ordered. For others, however, the telehandler is likely the better option.
In that group of visitors I joined at Merlo, a couple of them were farmers who said they’d already replaced their loader tractor with a telehandler. After a season or two of use, they felt it was exactly the right machine for their operations.
“But it requires a change in mindset,” said one of Merlo’s marketing executives. “But we find once a farmer tries one and understands what he can do with it, he doesn’t want to go back (to a loader tractor).”