A (little bit) risky overtaking

The technological progress is based on steps in some way obliged. A skip rarely occurrs, only for example in case of a sensational discovery. Instead, some accelerations, even violent, have been recorded in the last time. The introduction of the computer several decades ago and, more recently, the developing of the web seem to be good examples.

The agricultural mechanization is no exception to this rule. In a project for the introduction of agricultural mechanization in a remote region of China close to Mongolia, I was the witness of a significant episode happened about 20 years ago. The introduction for cultivation of a modern tractor and its implements raised immediately a great excitement for the incredible quantity and quality of work performed, in a scenario in which until then the work was been carried out manually, only with the help of animal traction. But, just a minute later, the enthusiasm was extinguished largely. In fact, the machines were been able to perform in just a day the equivalent daily work of 30 men: one of them was been driving the tractor, another couple was been acting as assistants, but what about the other 27?

The people coming from the West countries immediately explained that those men could have been absorbed by the service sector. In a time of decades, though! In practice, in such a context several steps of progress (and not just technologic) of a country, of a society had been completely skipped. A society, among other things, in many ways significantly different from the West. Exactly: a risky overtaking.

Even the recent expansion in Eastern Europe and other emerging markets of the leading manufacturers of agricultural machinery is probably subjected to the same problems : how much is profitable the introduction of a tractor over 400 hp at the top of modernity in terms of mechanics, hydraulics, electronics , in scenarios where until the day before for agricultural jobs a surrogate of the tank was used?

What to do? On some issues, it seems correct (and convenient) skip anyway the steps. Increasing the safety, comfort and energy saving ; minimizing the environmental impact… Actions to be taken immediately and anywhere, without gaps to be filled. Human capital and the health of our planet represent absolute values, and must be retained at the best (indeed, we are already late…).

However, there are other factors on which it is worth pondering. It’s really necessary to introduce on emerging markets tractors equipped with transmissions so elaborate and sophisticated? In this scenario, what is the real need of the many advanced electronic devices fitted on modern tractors? We must not forget that the agricultural environment is very critical, and in certain situations the reliability of the machines is considered the most important feature. Almost always, simplicity is synonymous of reliability. And also the costs have a great importance: first for purchasing, but also (and sometime above all) to ensure adequate technical assistance.

All is well known? May be, but recent market strategies announced by some manufacturers suggest otherwise. Rather, also because of the enduring economic crisis, an interesting trend is emerging even in developed Western markets. In fact, is increasing a renewed interest for a tractor that is simple, mechanical, with few frills, all substance. And cheap, of course.

So, for staying at the top, the keyword is just one, seemingly simple, but very demanding : versatility. That means being able to offer the most appropriate product according to the real and very different needs of each market. Because the perfect tractor, the best choice always and everywhere, does not exist. If there was , everyone would do it …


Domenico Pessina,

Department of Agricultural Engineering

University of Milan – Italy

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