The Covid-19 pandemic has left many smaller businesses fighting for survival at a time of huge uncertainty, with many having to shut their doors completely.

However, with farmers continuing with business as normal – in most cases – machinery dealerships up and down the UK have enjoyed a relatively steady period, with the silage season upon us and harvest only around the corner.

The Scottish Farmer spoke to five machinery specialists from across the country to see how they are each coping under the lockdown restrictions.

Neal Jenkinson, TH Jenkinson, Ayr

The family-owned business, TH Jenkinson, was established in 1969 by Tom Jenkinson and currently serves Scotland and Northern Ireland’s agricultural industries – specialising in machinery and parts sales, as well as maintenance and repairs.

With the company recently celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, in 2019, Neal said he was striving to ensure that his team continued to deliver a top quality service to their customers up and down the country.

“This is the busiest time of the year for us, as farmers have just finished spring work, with many now moving onto silage operations,” said Neal.

“When lockdown was enforced, there were initial concerns about whether our customers were going to want to purchase or service machinery due to the risk of the virus.

“However, with the improved weather and farmers continuing to work as normal, sales have remained strong in the agricultural sector and we are keeping on top of demand.”

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic had left many businesses utilising the government’s furlough scheme with the primary intention to protect the health of it’s staff and this was no different with TH Jenkinson.

“We have 50% of our staff members placed on the furlough scheme, the majority of which either have health issues themselves, have a young family or are caring for an individual with health complications,” explained Neal.

“The likes of the mechanics, admin and sales staff have remained at work. However, we left it up to the staff as to whether they wanted to stay at work or go home. It was important to us that they got to choose the situation that suited their needs best,” he added.

It’s no surprise that self-isolation comes naturally to most farmers and now that silage season has reared its head, more and more will be working flat out and undoubtedly will be relying on Neal and his team to ensure that the industry’s ‘engine room’ is kept running.

“We are continuing to operate our ‘on-farm’ repair and maintenance service, as well as deliveries of machines and parts, as long as the farmer is happy for us to visit the premises – which in most cases they have been,” Neal commented.

“All mechanics and delivery drivers are aware to allow themselves only restricted contact with the customer as much as possible, so that the remainder of our staff’s health isn’t jeopardised,” he added.

The company is also taking extra precautions with the remainder of staff members, ensuring that all have the appropriate personal protection equipment, as well as introducing measurements within all depots to protect the health and wellbeing of both the staff and the customers.

“We have stopped the access to the parts shop for our customers and introduced an outside reception, where people can be met at a three-metre distance from the member of staff dealing with their enquiry,” commented Neal.

“We’ve also placed sheep hurdles outside the main entrance to keep people at an appropriate distance from one another, as well as asking customers to phone and order parts in advance. All orders are left at a collection point outside the shop for the customer, so that contact is minimal.”

With Neal and his team able to cope with the new lockdown regulations and demand for their services remaining high, there does seem to be hope at a time where others are struggling.

“Our sales are on target for now and although our construction and landscape clientele have slowly come to a halt, the agricultural industry is remaining strong and keeping us busy.

“However, we are grateful to all the staff that chose to stay at work. Their willingness to remain and adapt under the lockdown regulations is outstanding and because of that, TH Jenkinson has been able to continue to operate,” Neal concluded.

Jimmy and Karen Low, J Low Agri Services, Kelty

When the country faced lockdown in March, this brought a new challenge to the table for Jimmy and Karen Low, owners of J Low Agri Services, and their experienced team.

After becoming a fully established dealer just three years ago, under the umbrella of machinery specialists, Case IH, J Low Agri Services majors in the repair, service and sale of a range of types and brands of machinery – both agricultural and construction – as well as fabrication works and the supply of parts and lubricants.

While the Covid-19 pandemic caused some alterations for many agricultural businesses, Jimmy and Karen are coping well nonetheless.

“With summer being one of our busiest times in the calendar, lockdown has proven to be a challenge but one that we are managing to overcome,” stated Jimmy.

“Machinery sales have slowed down a little bit as there are fewer enquiries. The likes of dairy and beef farmers have taken a bit of a hit in recent months and this will have a knock-on effect in terms of watching how they spend their money and if they really need to purchase or repair a machine,” added Karen.

“The construction side of our clientele has tailed off and there definitely isn’t the same workload with our agricultural customers, however business is remaining steady in all areas for now.”

The government’s furlough scheme is also one taken up by Jimmy and Karen, meaning that three of their eight staff members are at home, with the remaining five – mechanics, parts and sales staff – working under strict regulations.

“It’s hard having to send staff members home, however, if we hadn’t utilised the furlough scheme we would have had to make redundancies in order to survive – so, ultimately, it was the better route to take,” Karen explained.

“As a business, we were concerned about the level of turnover whilst under lockdown as the winter months are a quieter time, so it is even more important that we remain profitable now,” Jimmy added.

With the priority of safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the remainder of their staff members, Jimmy and Karen have introduced stringent regulations at their Kelty-based depot.

“No one is allowed within the premises unless it is absolutely necessary. We have a porch area, between two of the entrance doors, where customers are met with a window shutter on the wall allowing us to communicate without physical contact,” commented Karen.

“All our staff are provided with the appropriate protection and sanitiser sprays, we are also monitoring our temperatures. Everyone is being more vigilant with social distancing, including the customers, so we have adapted well in that sense.

“As much as this is an uncertain time for everyone, we are just grateful that we are continuing to survive in a time where others may not be and that’s thanks to both our customers and our staff members,” Jimmy added.

Sam Mercer, Hamilton Ross Group, Perth

With more than 85 years’ experience and the combined force of three leading dealerships; Hamilton Brothers, Ross of Lanark and Reekie, the Hamilton Ross Group is dedicated to serving the needs of the agricultural, groundcare and construction industries throughout central Scotland.

The company is made up of six depots located in Perth, Cupar, Campbeltown, Bishopton, Lanark and Tarbolton, and are specialists in parts, service, sales and the hire of second-hand and new machinery from brands including Massey Ferguson, Valtra, Fendt, JCB and Kubota.

Sam Mercer, general manager at the Perth depot, explained how lockdown affected the dealership and its customers, as well as the procedures they have implemented to ensure the safety of their trading.

“When the lockdown measurements were put into place, our initial focus was for the safety of our employees and customers, along with how we would trade under these new circumstances,” Sam said.

Hamilton Ross Group’s management team implemented a plan to ensure business continuity across all depots, ensuring that everyone was kept safe whilst supporting their customers essential business.

“We have been very fortunate with the support received from our key manufacturers.

"Although they have faced their own challenges in keeping a complex global supply chain functioning, they have been able to keep this impact to a minimum for us and our end customers, whilst keeping us informed with the latest developments through daily updates,” he added.

“Business has remained steady within the agricultural sector as our farmers never stop, keeping us all fed! Although other areas of the business, like groundcare and construction, have had quieter months, we still have contracts with essential private and public sector customers who are keeping the country running.”

With social distancing now meaning employees must work with minimal contact between each other and customers, the company has implemented a variety of precautions to protect both staff and customers.

“Our entire sales team is now working from home and we have closed the entrance to the country shop in Perth, with all contact with customers being outside or through a window with a two-metre barrier,” said Sam.

“All our other branches are following the same procedures. Everyone is being more careful and vigilant at work, and sanitising whilst entering and leaving the building, which is good to see.

"Engineers now sit in their individual vehicles to have their lunch, rather than the usual congregation in the ‘piece hut’.

“Another change would be that we all now communicate via online meetings, whether that be meeting with manufacturers, staff training sessions or management meetings."

The most recent was a Massey Ferguson training session which had 165 attendees, highlighting that all staff are adapting in some way, shape or form, Sam said.

Customers have also adapted to the new regulations, with machinery being dropped off and picked up straight from the depot by the customer, rather than being visited or delivered by the company.

“We do still operate ‘on-farm’ visits but only by invitation from the customer.

"People are just that little bit more cautious about letting anyone visit their premises, which is understandable and ultimately safer for both us and the client,” he commented.

However, with the agricultural industry continuing to work as normal and demand for services remaining high, Hamilton Ross Group has strived to work as close to normal as possible.

“It’s a good place to be working in agriculture, as the industry is remaining basically strong and we are being kept busy.

“The main driving force behind the company is still it’s employees – without them we wouldn’t be where we are today.

"They deserve so much recognition for being adaptable and hard-working which, in these testing times, has kept this company’s engine running,” concluded Sam.

David Haggart, Teagle, Truro, Cornwall

Established in 1943, family-owned machinery giant, Teagle, is renowned for it's supply of farm equipment and more specifically, it's famous Tomahawk bale shredders, bedders and feeders.

Although the company's head quarters are based at Truro, in Cornwall, you can find Teagle sales managers as far afield as France, Germany, US and Russia.

Teagle's Scottish sales manager and chairman of the Scottish Agricultural Machinery Representatives Association, David Haggart, gave an insight to how the company has been coping whilst under lockdown.

“Following the government announcement, our company understandably wanted to seek clarity on the directive and decide on what was the best way forward for us," said David.

"The main focus was how to protect the welfare of circa 180 employees, most of which operate closely together at our production facility in Cornwall. As such, we were asked to take a few days holiday while the directors put a plan together.

“After a very short break (during which parts orders were still being accepted and honoured), the business moved forwards with roughly 40% production capacity. This was largely due to the stringent social distancing measures that needed to be adopted which of course meant less people were able to work within the factory environment.

After reviewing our processes and how we do work internally, we’ve been able to increase capacity steadily whilst maintaining social distancing and are now running at 60-65% production levels. Understandably sales visits were no longer permitted to protect our staff and our dealers, so we’ve had to adapt how we work.”

David added: "The really good news is that, despite everything we read about in the press with large companies making massive job cuts, there have been no redundancies within Teagle and the government furlough scheme has helped to support members of staff who are unable to work at the moment due to the enforced restrictions.

“Obviously the agricultural shows have been cancelled but as area sales managers, we’re all working hard from home as we build towards our busiest straw bedders season which are our bread and butter product. It’s this time of year when farmers start thinking about housing of their livestock through winter months and we have many who house all year around so we’re always busy.”

With company policy restricting meetings with dealers and customers, David is mostly answering calls and has found that isolation is proving a more efficient way of communicating with his clients.

"As I'm not constantly on the go like I was beforehand, I've found myself being more reactive when answering any client's questions or queries, as I have the time to do so properly," he stated.

Even during these challenging time David is still managing to make sales in fertiliser spreaders, mowers and toppers for grassland management operations. With the company still being able to make deliveries of machines, tight social distancing measurements have been put into place for both the drivers and the customers.

"Our drivers are supplied with face masks, gloves and sanitisers – as are all employees – however, they are under strict regulations to avoid contact with anyone whilst delivering a machine," David explained.

Teagle is also being recognised as one of the only major businesses in the Cornwall area still functioning, resulting in a small boost for the local economy.

"We’re following government advice closely and we’re hoping to be back to some sort of normality in August as we build towards our busiest winter season, we will be reliant on as much production as possible to keep up with demand," said David.

"However, we are lucky that we can still continue to operate and, hopefully, this will all be a distant memory in the months to come."

Andrew Millar, Amazone UK, Doncaster

German machinery leader and innovator, Amazone, are specialists in the design and manufacture of fertilisers spreaders, sprayers, tillage and seeding machinery. Founded in 1883 by Heinrich Dreyer and with their UK headquarters based in Doncaster, Amazone operate through a dealer network,

We spoke with Scottish-based territory manager Andrew Millar, on how Amazone has overcome the altercations left by the onset of Covid-19.

"The company is still on target with sales and with the Coronavirus striking this has meant that all sales and service staff are following the government guidelines and working from home. "We were worried at first about the repercussions the virus could cause a company like ourselves but with the agricultural industry having to continue as normal, we are still supporting our dealers and end customers the best we can," Andrew commented.

"Scotland’s busiest times of the year falls in spring and autumn with spring sowing now completed, fertiliser spreading continuing and crop spraying well underway.

Amazone's dealer sales staff are mostly working from home and have been kept busy following up new enquiries for the forthcoming autumn cultivation work. Autumn is also the time where some farmers, who are looking at buying a new wider sprayer, have to plan ahead to make sure the autumn drilled tramlines fit in with the new sprayer

"The company has managed to avoid having to furlough any staff, while at Doncaster staff numbers working out of the office have been kept to a minimum to keep the UK operation running as smoothly as possible with the appropriate personal protective equipment, as well as proper safety precautions being taken," Andrew added.

"However, farm visits have been prohibited with only machinery deliveries being allowed to be carried out, as long as minimal contact with the customer is applied and the drivers are wearing PPE."

Amazone UK has two lorries on the road ensuring customers receive machinery as quickly as possible.

The supply of parts has also been working well, with orders being processed from Doncaster and, if need be, parts can be flown overnight from Germany to arrive in the UK the following day.

"As a company we have tried to continue to function as normal as possible to support the agricultural industry."