Pearce: Salford planting seeds for expansion

In a sector dominated by U.S. name brands in farm equipment, and an increasing number of European players coming to the market, Salford Tillage and Seeding Systems is practically in a class by itself.

Easily one of the most successful Canadian farm equipment manufacturers, the company recently cut the ribbon on its latest plant expansion, pushing its capacity by 54,000 square feet, bringing its total manufacturing area to more than 170,000 square feet.

The move acknowledges Salford’s growing importance in the tillage and air drill markets, and it now has manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and Russia to complement its operations in southern Ontario.

Now, one location can do more, from product development to much of the testing process. Its location just south of Ingersoll, Ont., about 30 km east of London, is very important to Salford’s business model.

As the company has grown and its client list has spread to Western Canada, as well, the original home site has expanded, not just its facility, but its staff complement, which now stands at 125 people.

Every facet of a unit’s development can now be completed on-site, from the design, construction and painting of the beams and parts to the assembly and packaging of the finished products. Due to the size of many of the tillage and seeding units, most are shipped with "some assembly required," but many of the units sold within Ontario are assembled at the plant, then tested and delivered.

"This building allows us to have a lot more product development capabilities," explains Geof Gray, general manager of Salford Tillage and Seeding Systems. "We can have ongoing products, multiple stations conducting product development, doing testing, and we have the space now to assemble the machines, go out in the field, test it and bring it back, which are some of the capabilities we didn’t have with our old building."

Gray adds that the expansion provides room to grow, not just with the market, but specifically with the company’s customers.

The key word in farming today is bigger, a point he made during his speech just prior to the ribbon-cutting. And bigger farms require bigger machines, which was one of the key drivers for Salford to expand.

"Not only that, we had to change our design process, to speed it up. Because the market is evolving very fast; there are new chemicals being introduced, new seed being introduced, and those need different tillage and seeding practices. So we had to speed-up our evolution of farm equipment and design, and that allows us to help design faster, too."

There are also several partners that play a role in the development process. According to Gray, Salford is in constant discussions with university researchers, including those from the University of Guelph, plus institutions in the U.S., including Iowa State University.

"We have our own on-staff people, but we also work very closely with the universities, because that’s where a lot of the developing’s done, and we work very closely with them," says Gray. "Whether it’s demonstration tools, co-ordinating testing with them, sharing technology with them, they’ll have something they want to try, and we’ll tweak a machine for them, or we’ll have something we’ve tweaked and that we want to show them. So, it goes both ways."

The fact that the new facility was designed with the help of some of the company’s employees is also a source of pride for executives at Salford. Where other companies have tried to cut costs by outsourcing engineering or manufacturing components, Salford has worked to stay local, employing more design engineers, welders and assemblers to work on-site.

The company also employs a multilingual sales team, including one member who’s fluent in Russian, to service its clients in that growing market.

— Ralph Pearce is a field editor for Country Guide at St. Marys, Ont.

Related stories:
Is vertical tillage right for your farm?, Sept. 16, 2011
Salford launches financing program in Canada, Sept. 15, 2010

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