When we talk about agricultural engineering and manufacturing in Northern Ireland, Co Down is the immediate standout.
The county is home to numerous household names in the industry, one of which is Erth Engineering. In business over 25 years, the firm was established by current managing director David McCoubrey.
“I grew up on the family farm here in Co Down. I was bitten by the agriculture bug at a young age. We didn’t have a lot of acres so I decided to study agri engineering at Harper Adams College in England.
“It was always in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to have any regrets in life. I was happy in England, but always wanted to return home and try my hand at engineering and bring my own ideas to life.
“The first 10 years, I focused mainly on arable equipment, such as cultivators and front presses. Our ethos was always to bring a fresh edge to our products.
“This was working well, but, to be honest, it was like pushing water up a hill. The market in Ireland for such kit was very small. Ireland has some fantastic tillage farmers, but in reality we are a grass country, so I had to go back to the drawing board.”
Today, Erth Engineering largely specialises in the design and manufacture of two products – the Panbuster subsoiler and the Agriseeder seed drill.
“Eighteen years ago, I felt there was an opening for a panbuster with a fresh edge. We focused on two things, firstly bringing up as little stones as possible and secondly keeping the operator’s bum on the seat. A good auto-reset system was key to both. We modelled our original system off a plough and developed it from there.
“We built the first Agriseeder direct drill in 2013, which was based on customer requests. We wanted to design a drill that would achieve good seed-soil contact in both stony and wetter conditions.
“We looked at a lot of designs and figured a disc drill was the route to go. Our edge with the drill was the auto-contouring system. It was initially a grassland drill, but has developed into an all-round drill which is capable of placing different seeds in a wide range of conditions.
“We have guys now using it to sow cereals. In recent years, these drills have really taken off for us. Traditionally, we were panbuster manufacturers who built a few drills, but this is changing rapidly and the drill is now becoming our most popular product. We are currently working on a trailed version for the Kiwi market and a number of exciting new retrofit options.”
“Ireland accounts for around 30% of our sales, while the UK accounts for a further 50%. In recent years, we have begun exporting products to countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Norway, Chile and Canada.
“We are ramping up exports to the southern hemisphere. This is working well, as it complements our existing markets and keeps production at a constant level throughout the year.
“Traditionally, we build 120 to 150 machines each year. To date, we have built 80 units so far this year and are on track to hit 200 units.”
“The whole approach to agriculture is changing. The increasing environmental pressures will change the way we farm. There will also be more of a focus on carbon sequestration going forward and increased pressures to farm more sustainably.
“Farmers also want to increase output while keeping ground in production. With this, a lot of guys are now looking at overseeding by sowing grass in to grass and reseeding using minimum disturbance techniques. I think all of this offers great potential for our two products.
“On the flip side, the fact that we only build two products will always be a threat to our company. We will have to be very good at what we do, as we are competing with a lot of other companies.
“The current shipping delays have pushed out delivery times to our southern hemisphere markets by over three months, which isn’t ideal.
“The price of steel and components going up and the increased lead times are also a worry, but I think this will come down again.
“We stockpiled steel and componentry pre-Brexit, so this hasn’t really affected us much to date. The biggest threat to our business is that farmers are price takers. Everyone wants food but no one wants to pay for it. When the price paid to farmers for their produce comes down, it has an effect all the way down the line to the machinery manufacturers.”
“We have changed our approach to selling machines.
“We are currently in the process of buying a new premises in Downpatrick. We are at full capacity at our current premises and are looking to expand and increase production to meet growing demand. With this, we are looking to invest in more automation and technology with the aim of keeping all manufacturing and fabrication in house.”
Business: Erth Engineering.
Managing director: David McCoubrey.
Export markets: 12.
Address: Seaforde, Downpatrick, Co Down.