Innovate to keep ahead, TMA Conference told

By: Carene Chong

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Innovation and skills shortages were on the agenda at the Tractor and Machinery Association of Australia’s (TMA) annual conference held at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds on July 22.

 Innovate to keep ahead, TMA Conference told
TMA: Machinery dealerships should innovate and upskill or risk falling behind.

As dealership networks contract and skilled workers are increasingly hard to find, farm machinery businesses are struggling to keep up with the times.

That’s according to Tractor and Machinery Association of Australia (TMA) Executive Richard Lewis.

Lewis told close to 150 agriculture industry delegates at this year’s TMA Conference it is time dealerships revisit the way they do business.

"It doesn’t take much to innovate from where you are today," Lewis says.

"The word ‘innovation’ itself scares a lot of people as they think it requires you to invent something.

"But innovation can be as simple as just setting up a Facebook page or using online advertising instead of print,"he says.

"You need to grow and innovate or you’ll fall behind."

Statistics presented at the conference show the Australian machinery dealership network shrinking from 2000 outlets in 1994 to less than 600 today.

Of the 2000, most are single outlet dealerships while the 600 outlets today are mostly part of a franchises.

However, despite the seemingly alarming decline, Lewis says there is nothing to worry about.

"The cost of running a dealership today is just significantly higher than what it was 20 years ago," he says.

"There’s also less of a need for a dealership in every single town. People realise they can service customers through other means like the Internet for example."

"Technology has certainly bridged that gap and reduced the need for 2000 dealerships."

At the conference, Lewis launched the 2014 State of the Industry Report, prepared by agricultural data specialist Agriview.

The report shows an increase in hay tool and tillage equipment sales in 2013 but a significant drop of almost 36 per cent in combine harvester sales year on year.

"But that’s just part of a cycle," Lewis says.

"It happens every 7 to 10 years so it didn’t come as a real surprise to anyone."

Other speakers at the conference included Andy Newall from NEWAG Consulting who touched upon innovative farming practices such as zero till and Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF); Simon Ritchie from KPMG addressing tips and traps for successful small businesses; and Justin Smirk from Westpac who gave attendees an overview of the Australian economy and where the agriculture industry currently stands.

A panel comprising manufacturers, dealers and farmers addressed continuing ignorance about the agricultural industry, difficulties with the recruitment of skilled people and the failure of Australian educational institutions to incorporate mechanisation into their curricula.

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