Labour shortages across many industries
by Service Dealer Ireland Editor, Alan Mahon
Alan Mahon

Despite the challenges I am hopeful that our sector will be in good shape in the months ahead.


If all goes according to plan, the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions will begin on October the 22nd.


This will be a welcome relief to many. However, as we begin to return to normal, there is still a shortage of labour across many industries, particularly the hospitality sector. It is not unusual to see many jobs advertised looking for full time staff. Add to this the reduced number of road hauliers and the short supply of parts, a challenge still remains within our own industry. 


There is a real concern within the farming and horticultural sector of labour shortages. This should be a concern to our own industry as these are the sectors that we sell our machines into. It is not in our interest to see farmers or fruit and vegetable growers go out of business. IFA horticulture spokesperson, Paul Brophy who was recently interviewed on national media said “if labour issues are not tackled, they will be the “unwinding of the industry”. He went on to say that “Irish horticulturalists are operating businesses that are ‘built on sand’, as concerns around labour shortages mount”. 


Pressure has been put on the government from the horticultural sector to invest more in the industry. In response, Agricultural Minister Charlie McConalogue said “the development of Ireland’s horticultural sector is a priority and has been laid out in the Food Vision 2030 strategy. This year, for example, we have increased the budget for the sector by 50% for the scheme for investment aid which allows businesses and growers to receive grant aid for capital investment and specialist equipment…”


Yet, despite these challenges I am hopeful that we will be in good shape in the months ahead. I think that the domestic lawncare market, in particular, will improve as people spend the savings that they have accumulated during the pandemic. It is anticipated that a lot of cash will work its way back into the economy over the next few months, especially after the restrictions are lifted on October the 22nd. 


As an indication of this improvement, recent figures released by the European Agricultural Machinery association (CEMA) show an increase in agricultural tractor registrations for the first six months of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020. According to CEMA’s data, Ireland showed a 26% increase in vehicle registrations. You can read more about this in detail in this edition of Service Dealer Ireland. 


The strange thing about Covid-19 is that it has changed the way we live, probably forever. Like the development of technology, for example, we often ask ourselves “how did we live without mobile phones?” or “where would we be without the internet?” When we look back at the pandemic in years to come we will probably say “only for Covid-19 we would never have Zoom meetings or virtual trade shows or work remotely from home”.  


The reality within our own industry is that we will probably revert back to near normal life, i.e. having face to face exhibitions and trade shows, have demonstration days on farms. Most of the work will be carried out at the dealers premises, except, perhaps, some administration staff may choose to work from home on some of the days. But you can’t repair machines remotely or attend a customer’s needs in a virtual setting. You need that human interaction to run a successful business.

Promoting environmental awareness
Husqvarna’s P535HX Hybrid rotary mower on display at the Expo in DCU

An exhibition of battery operated equipment and zero emission fuel machinery was on display at the Sports Campus of Dublin City University last weekend.


Last weekend (October 2nd - 3rd) an exhibition of battery operated equipment and zero emission fuel machinery was on display at the Sports Campus of Dublin City University (DCU).


Husqvarna’s P535HX Hybrid rotary mower on display at the Expo in DCU


The trade stand was organised by Mick Bohan, in conjunction with Liffey Distributors Ltd. It was intended to highlight the importance of using eco friendly equipment that would reduce carbon emissions.


Mick, who is a former Physical Education teacher and inter-county football coach to the Dublin ladies football team, has become passionate about the environment, especially when it comes to carbon emissions. He wants to make schools and GAA clubs aware of the machinery that is available that is friendly to the environment. Mick became a Husqvarna ambassador through his friendship with Tony Brady, the owner of Liffey Distributors Ltd. based in Dublin. Tony approached Mick asking him would he be interested in promoting Husqvarna products to schools with the emphasis on promoting their environmentally friendly range of equipment.


Husqvarna’s Expo in DCU concentrated on battery powered equipment and mowers using low emmission fuels


“I was involved with PE education in schools and coaching children in GAA clubs. With help from the DCU CEO, Ken Robinson, I was allowed use the university Sports Campus as a venue to hold the Expo. I wanted to promote mowing equipment and tools to schools and sports clubs to better maintain their pitches and at the same time protect the environment. These machines included battery operated strimmers, Automowers and equipment using alkylate fuel that has zero emissions and almost no noise” said Mick. “Husqvarna are trying to compliment the Green GAA Club Initiative by asking people to use battery or Automowers run by low voltage electric wires.”


“We had great interest over the weekend. Many organisations attended such as the Office of Public Works (OPW), the Botanic Gardens, schools, universities and even Horse Racing Ireland” continued Mick.


Some of the attendees also included retired men who were involved in their Mens Sheds organisation. They were particularly interested in the battery operated strimmers and hedge cutters as they were much lighter thus making them easier to lift and operate.


Mick finished teaching PE last June and has since learned about mowing equipment at Husqvarna University, which offers training programs to those involved with Husqvarna products. It is hoped that future Expos, such as this will be held in the future.

For first 6 months of 2021
CEMA have released tractor registration figures

CEMA have revealed what impact the supply chain challenges have had on sales of tractors across Europe.


According to numbers sourced from national authorities, some 115,146 “tractors” were registered across Europe in the first six months of 2021.


Of these registrations, 32,353 vehicles were 37kW (50 hp) and under, and 82,793 were 38kW and above. The European Agricultural Machinery Association (CEMA) considers that 89,060 of these vehicles are agricultural tractors, the rest being quads, telehandlers or other equipment. These numbers confirm high levels of demand as farmers, contractors and all other actors of the European agri-food chain went through great efforts to ensure access to safe and nutritious food in times of a continuing pandemic.


Overall, 25% more agricultural tractors were registered across Europe in the first six months of 2021 compared to the first semester of 2020, badly hit by the pandemic. For manufacturers, Covid-19 production and distribution constraints gradually improved in 2021 but did not come back to normal.


Significant supply chain challenges remained, with new issues adding to ongoing problems as the world was recovering and competing for scarce supply. The European Union’s decision to postpone deadlines for machines using transition engines in the 56 to 129 kW range proved essential to help industry manage through these extraordinary times.
According to the latest CEMA barometer, the general Business Climate Index for the Agricultural Machinery Industry in Europe seems to have reached its peak in the months of May and June (with highest levels since 2008). In September, the index decreased slightly for the third month in a row at a high level (to 63 points on a scale of -100 to +100). The drop this time is the result of some companies evaluating their current business slightly less favourably.


Uncertainty continues as to what extent the orders can be realized against the backdrop of extreme price increases and shortages on the supplier side. Meanwhile, 40% of the companies expect a production stop due to a lack of certain parts in the coming month.


On the other hand, demand from end customers in Europe seems to remain robust. The industry still sees a high need for investment for almost all of Europe, especially among farmers within Central to Eastern Europe. Accordingly, the regional breakdown shows for each single European market a majority of survey participants expecting turnover increases in the next six months, with the CIS countries having moved up the most in the market ranking.


Against this background, the European industry representatives remain confident of closing the year with strong results. With regard to the full year 2021, the survey participants expect for their company a turnover increase of +13% (arithmetic mean) or +10% (median).


According to the CEMA figures, the total number of registrations for Ireland for the first six months of 2021 was 2179 vehicles, of which 71% were agricultural tractors. This compares to 1728 vehicles for the same period in 2020, an increase of 26%.

Education at SALTEX
Learning Live

The GMA have unveiled what they describe as an all-encompassing education programme designed for all sectors of the groundscare industry.


SALTEX event organisers, Grounds Management Association (GMA), have revealed details about this year’s Learning LIVE - which they are describing as an all-encompassing education programme designed for all sectors of the groundscare industry.


The CPD-accredited seminars are free to attend, and registration is now open for all sessions that are due to take place in three purpose-built seminar theatres on the SALTEX show floor in Halls 6, 7 and 8 at The NEC, Birmingham, England on 3 and 4 November.


The GMA say Learning LIVE features an array of expert speakers and has been designed to provide support, insight and real solutions to key industry issues. 


To celebrate the show’s 75th anniversary, show organisers have introduced a new seminar theatre entitled the ‘Workforce Development Forum,’ which focuses on employment, career progression and personal development.  


Seminar highlights in this theatre include; Geoff Webb, Grounds Management Association (GMA) CEO, who will be highlighting the importance of building a skilled workforce for the future of grounds management; Karl McDermott (Lord’s) and John Wright (Southampton FC) will be amongst those discussing how to attract young people into the industry; opportunities and the scope of roles in the turf industry will be explored by an expert panel which includes Jason Booth (GMA), Matt Le Brun (Advance Grass) and Stuart Facey (New Hall School) and last but not least Bradley Tennant (International Greenkeepers For Hire) and Frank Newberry (GMA Approved Management Trainer and Consultant) will be offering tips on how to shine when it comes to pay rise time.


Elsewhere in the Learning LIVE theatres, attendees can look forward to; a virtual tour of Leicester City FC’s new Sports Turf Academy hosted by grounds manager John Ledwidge; in recognising the challenges the sector is currently experiencing a panel including Ian Avery (Sutton Valence School), Jim Dawson (BT Murrayfield), Stuart Kerrison (Essex CCC) and Maria Kuzak (CALM) will be openly discussing the pressures of the job, coping mechanisms and work-life balance; an insight into how ongoing research by county cricket grounds and England’s Centre of Excellence will impact the recreational game – led by Andy Mackay (ECB), Gary Barwell (Warwickshire CCC) and Will Relf (Loughborough University); grounds managers Ed Ramsden (Perse School) and Greg Smith (Nottingham University) will be offering advice on how to achieve a quick turnaround on multi-sport surfaces; pesticides and what the future holds for them will be explored by John Moverley (Amenity Forum), Dr Christian Spring (STRI) and Glenn Kirby (Syngenta); Neil Stubley (AELTC), Adrian Kay (York Racecourse) Dave Roberts (Liverpool FC) are offering expert tips on sustainable practices in turf management; and Karl Standley (Wembley Stadium) along with turf consultant Richard Hayden will be providing a behind-the-scenes look at the turf care techniques which ensured that the pitches shone at Euro 2020.


The above are a snapshot of sessions available at this year’s show. The full programme can be found here, register your visit to SALTEX and book into your preferred sessions.


Pre-registration to SALTEX 2021 is essential this year. Attendees must print off their badges for entry to the show.

Boost for bricks and mortar businesses
Tom Black

Belfast-based dealer and distributor Cyril Johnston & Co are one of the businesses hoping for an autumn boost from the free £100 shopping vouchers for every adult in NI.


This autumn, every adult over the age of 18 in Northern Ireland can apply for a free £100 shopping voucher as the Stormont government aims to stimulate business in the High Street. 
The voucher, which comes in the form of a pre-loaded card, can only be used in bricks and mortar establishments with a card reader. They cannot be used for online purchases or for gambling.
Tom Black, managing director of Belfast garden machinery dealer and distributor Cyril Johnston & Co, talking to Chris Biddle for the latest episode of the Inside Agri-turf podcast, says that the initiative should prove a welcome boost to autumn sales.
With a background in accountancy with Price Waterhouse (now PWC) and wide experience in working with small businesses, Tom Black was appointed managing director of Cyril Johnston just over a year ago having been with the company for six years and previously held the posts of finance director and general manager.
Founded 70 years ago when Cyril Johnston met a young enterprising engineer, Douglas Hayter, the company has had a seamless relationship with Hayter mowers to the present day.
As an ‘outsider’ to the family and the industry, he talks about re-focussing the company on its core business of grass machinery after several years of diversification – and of using outside consultants to help strengthen and confirm the company culture which was successfully tested during the Covid trading restrictions.
The episode with Tom Black concludes a trilogy called Dealernomics, talking with dealers established in different eras about the economics and evolution of their businesses
Intention to create new business and products
TX robotic strawberry harvesters

Investment has been made in a startup developing and manufacturing robots for strawberry harvesting.


The Kubota Corporation and Yamaha Motor Co Ltd have invested in USA startup Advanced Farm Technologies (AFT).


AFT is a USA-based startup developing and manufacturing robots for strawberry harvesting. The company’s TX robotic strawberry harvester combines an unmanned ground vehicle with image sensors and artificial intelligence. 



The company says image recognition technology instantly distinguishes ripe and ready strawberries and the grippers at the end of the robot arms gently pick each one. The company says this automation technology significantly reduces conventional manned fruit and vegetable processes.


In an official statement, Kubota and Yamaha Motor say with this investment they will " . .utilise the technologies of both companies to accelerate technological development and business expansion aimed at implementing automated farming solutions from AFT for both field crops and top fruit."


The statement continued, "This collaborated initiative is a result of open innovation support promoted by new divisions launched by each company. Kubota established its Innovation Centre in 2019 to promote  innovation through partnerships with external organisations. The Yamaha Motor Group is also using its company Yamaha Motor Ventures and Laboratory Silicon Valley, established in 2015, to gain a foothold in corporate venture capital activities through this investment.


"Working together with external partners, both companies will advance open innovation for proactive engagement with advanced technologies in the broad agricultural field and will work for the purpose of accelerating the creation of new businesses, products, and services to address various global social issues."

To encourage move to battery
Impact of petrol power tools can now be assessed

Emissions tests have been carried out on some of the UK’s most popular petrol-powered tools for the first time.


Challenge 2025, the campaign led by battery-powered gardening equipment manufacturer Ego Power Plus, which aims to encourage the adoption of battery-powered tools and move both domestic and professional users away from petrol, has launched the first emissions calculator for gardeners.

In a statement Challenge 2025 said, "While petrol-powered tools have been a familiar fixture for decades, the emissions they produce have largely gone unnoticed. There has been a lack of regulation around petrol-powered outdoor power equipment, with no requirement for manufacturers to test equipment or publish emissions results - something which is a basic requirement in sectors such as the car industry.


"Now, through Challenge 2025, emissions tests have been carried out on some of the UK’s most popular petrol-powered tools for the first time, with common tools shown to produce up to 11x more toxic emissions than cars. With the findings plugged into the new emissions calculator, users can estimate the emissions attributed to their garden tools by inputting their average usage times."


The campaign describe their new emissions calculator as the first of its kind dedicated exclusively to users of petrol-powered garden equipment.


The company's statement continued, "Through supporting domestic and professional gardeners to understand the true impact of petrol tool usage, Challenge 2025 hopes to encourage people to seriously consider battery-powered alternatives moving forward. As highlighted by the recent IPCC report on climate change, it is human activities which are the source of the problem and shifts in everyday behaviour could limit further damage."

Emma Gayler, Ego’s ambassador for Challenge 2025, says: “To create this calculator, we had to start from scratch because there had previously been no emissions testing of petrol-powered tools. So, we surveyed thousands of professional and domestic users and asked councils up and down the country which tools they own and use. From this, we established the most popular petrol tools and put them to the test.

“Because these tools are so freely available, it’s easy to think that they’re perfectly safe to use, but emissions test results suggest that’s not always the case. Some tools produce such high volumes of emissions that testing equipment designed for cars cannot measure it, which means users could be using petrol tools and unknowingly impacting their health and that of those around them, as well as causing damage to the environment.

“The results from these tests were alarming, but by making them accessible through our new emissions calculator, we believe it will help both domestic and professional users to make more informed decisions when it comes to buying their next piece of equipment. By making the switch from petrol to battery, people can reduce their environmental impact without having to compromise on power and performance.”

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