How An Australian Exporter Sells ‘Simple And Robust’ Farm Machinery In Africa

How An Australian Exporter Sells ‘Simple And Robust’ Farm Machinery In Africa

Australian wool farmer Rob Ward survived a financial disaster in Australian farming history, scoring a personal victory as an exporter of farm machinery to Africa.

Ward stepped out of his comfort zone as a fourth-generation wool grower, becoming a specialist in Australian-built tillage, seeding and spray equipment, and tools for African buyers, StockJournal reports.

Australia introduced a reserve price in 1974 to provide wool growers with a guaranteed minimum price for wool. The Wool Reserve Price Scheme, as it became known, collapsed in 1991, and the Australian wool business shrank 66 percent. It has never recovered, according to SydneyMorningHerald.

Australian farmers have a reputation for farming in tough environments, generating a market for robust locally built machinery in parts of the world where equipment reliability and longevity are critical selling points, according to StockJournal.

Ward identifies and sources equipment and machinery from around Eastern Australia to meet orders from customers ranging from land barons in Kazakhstan to mixed croppers in Botswana and aid initiatives in African villages.

Australia’s minimum- and zero-till revolution of the past 30 years contributed to Ward’s export success, StockJournal reports. “(Australia’s) rugged moisture-seeking planting equipment has proven well suited to working in similar arable terrains and marginal rainfall conditions in remote and under-developed locations overseas, particularly Africa,” the report said.

No-till or zero tillage agriculture is part of the practice of conservation agriculture, according to equipment supplier Vellag. It’s a way of growing crops from year to year without disturbing the soil, unlike traditional forms of agriculture.

Tillage uses ploughs and other equipment to prepare the soil for planting. Tilling the soil removes weeds and shapes the soil into rows for crop plants but there are some undesirable effects including soil erosion and increased evaporation of water.

No-till claims to reduce labor, fuel, and machinery costs, reducing the need for irrigation and increasing yields due to higher water infiltration and storage.

“The core motivation behind most of our sales is the need for relatively simple and robust machinery,” Ward said.

His company, Austarm Machinery, was inspired by his farm consultant brother-in-law working in Zimbabwe, who was having difficulty finding tough machinery for his cropping clients.

A year later, Austarm sent its first chisel plows to Tanzania and Botswana, followed by South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, and Sudan.

Austarm created a niche supplying drill planters and boomspray gear and promoting moisture conservation and yield advantages of no-till cropping, including supplying gear to World Bank and Arab-funded aid projects, StockJournal reported.

“In Australia our experience with marginal seasonal conditions produced gear that mostly can eliminate the dead years,” he said.

“In good years just about anybody can grow crops in Botswana, Kenya or South Sudan – the soils are pretty good – but with the right technology and crop protection and some extra nutrition you can at least get your costs back in tough years when available moisture would otherwise be totally wasted.

“I don’t promise to double a farmer’s yields, but I can’t recall our buyers having had complete failures since switching to zero-till.”

In 2014, Ward exported about 30 container loads of farm machinery and equipment from Australia.

Deals typically take 18 months from inquiry and providing quotes to final shipment, he said.

His customers typically farm 1000-to-20,000 hectares (2500-to-50,000 acres) of cereals, summer grains and cotton. His biggest client in Sudan farms 40,000 hectares.

Ward spent 22 weeks in Africa in 2014, mostly supervising new machine assembly and training on buyers’ farms.

Since 80 percent of his African grain-grower buyers also grow cotton, he went back to school to study cotton agronomy.

This year he went to Ethiopia to advise villagers on how to potentially form co-operatives to supply malt barley to brewers. Farmers want to upgrade and achieve yields like those in Kenya where Australian zero-till gear is used, he said.

“It’s not something that can be achieved overnight,” he said. “They’ll be moving from animal-power to using small tractors and 2.8-meter seeders,” he said.

Ward said he’s competing with plenty of offers from U.S. and European manufacturers, “but a lot of that gear is just not durable enough for the job,” he said. “It’s designed for more ideal conditions.

“Australian gear is welded together well, with bigger, harder-to-break components and less likelihood having the bearings seize up.”