Fleming Agri Products Ltd. from Derry may not normally hit the headlines every five minutes with new product launches, yet that does not mean that this 160-year-old company has little to offer farming.

Indeed, quite the opposite is the case, for what the company represents is simplicity and reliability in a world where we are constantly reminded that no machine is complete without a dozen or so features that demonstrate a manufacturer’s mastery of the latest technology.

It is not that Fleming is unaware or disinterested in technology, as the factory runs on a job management process with a digital system at its heart, but what the company does fully understand and caters for, is its customer base.

This pool does not consist entirely of farmers; sports clubs, local authorities and the equine industry are all included in the spread of end users who appreciate what the products stand for, and that is a functional tool for the job to be done.

Small farmers count

Unfortunately, producing small-scale unsophisticated equipment has become associated with low cost and poor quality, yet neither apply in the case of Fleming.

The quality of what leaves the factory is a major focus of Jonathon Lecky’s attention

Jonathon Lecky, managing director of the company, is keen to stress that the company tends to take the middle course in pricing, while striving its utmost to maintain as high a quality as possible.

Fleming, he noted to Agriland, is not in the business of competing with cheap Chinese products imported by the containerful and sold without any real warranty or back-up.

The ethos is one of catering for small- to medium-sized farms that cannot justify, or have no use for large complex machines.

However, such customers still expect the product to be made to a high standard, be robust and be fully backed up.

Inside of tanker
Painted and welded on the inside as well as on the exterior, Fleming tankers are built to last

Lecky also pointed out that small farmers can be just as progressive as their larger counterparts, expressing their competence in running a farm to its utmost capacity rather than than adopting a ‘digital with everything’ approach.

One example the sales team are keen to highlight is the care taken in producing slurry tankers. These are all single axle and range in size from 6,000L to 11,350L and all are welded on both sides of the seams and are painted inside.

Two tonne trailers
The Fleming 2t trailer is a firm favourite with operators of compact tractors

Once out on the farm the products and customers are not neglected either. There is always somebody available to take a customer’s enquiry and parts, when needed, are rapidly despatched.

This back-up is helped by the collective experience of the company’s staff, be it in the office or on the factory floor, most of whom have farming in their background or are still actively involved in it.

Fleming in the UK

Sales director for Fleming Agri Products Ltd. is David Meban who spent many years working for the company in the south of the UK where he gained a good knowledge of the sort of farmer who buys the products.

He is quick to point out that being a small farmer does not mean being an inefficient or less capable farmer; there are many on both sides of the water for whom a smallholding might not be the primary source of income, so they are not trying to run a unit on coins only.

Stack of grass toppers
Grass toppers remain a staple product for the company with many hundreds sold each year

In Wales and in the west of England there are also many smallholders who have moved from the city to find an easier pace of life; these people tend to appreciate higher standards and will not be fobbed off with poor quality goods.

They are, Meban noted, often attracted to the Fleming range thanks to its simplicity and robustness.

The importance of knowledgeable dealers in this situation is paramount, for often those new to farming struggle with the operation of machinery and supporting the retailers and their customers is a big part of his job.

Stock management

One of the lessons that the company took away from the Covid-19 period was that the management of stock levels of finished equipment is of paramount importance.

This extends beyond the factory fence. Meban explained that it is a question of assessing the total number of machines in the dealers’ yards, both of their own and of their competitors.

Front mounted yard scrapers
Fleming is seeing a steady increase in the demand for loader and telehandler mounted yardscrapers

By doing so, the market becomes more stable, enabling dealers to avoid tying their money up in surplus stock and the factory to better plan its production schedules – both highly desirable outcomes when margins are slim.

Although an order from a dealer will never be refused, assuming it can be fulfilled, it may be suggested that the number for a certain item is reduced if it is known that there are plenty of them out there in dealers’ yards already.

To help simplify the workflow, options tend to be limited, but the spare wheel mounted to these trailers was requested by a local authority, so Fleming obliged

This makes a refreshing change from the ‘pile ’em and sell ’em cheap’ mentality that has afflicted the trade in previous years and it is an approach that is appreciated by the dealers themselves as it offers a degree of stability.

It might be thought that Fleming is following the market, taking its cues from the major manufacturers and scaling machinery down to suit.

That would be a common misconception. What Jonathon Lecky and his team are actually doing is paying close attention to a market segment which they know well and are doing all they can to ensure that both they, and the dealer network, can operate profitably within it.

Staff at Fleming
Gareth Walker, Alison Duncan and Dylan Young are part of the sales and marketing team for Ireland and beyond

The products are by no means second rate, and neither are they priced at a premium nor disposable, just designed to be easy to use and suit compacts and smaller tractors.

However, there is mention of new machine under development which they hope to launch sometime this year and although very little is being said, it is likely to concern muck or slurry application.

Whatever transpires it is unlikely to be either expensive or complicated but it will be functional, doing the job intended without the need for 200hp in front of it.