Farm Equipment Evolving in China

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Farm Equipment Evolving in China
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China’s agricultural machinery sector is likely to see big improvements in oils for tractors and harvesters thanks to the nation’s determination to expedite the modernization of the farming industry, Afton engineer Niu Qiang said at a salon-style meeting earlier this month.

“The Chinese agriculture industry is adopting more modern, powerful tractors and harvesters to retire the outdated ones,” Niu said on July 18 at the two-day event held in Chengdu by the Xi’an-based consulting firm Muchengyou. “The move is in line with China’s policy push, and it caused drastic changes in the oil supply market as well.”

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China has been pushing farming machinery modernization since 2018 with a central government document updated annually. For example, it called in 2018 for China’s machinery makers develop equipment for bulk crops to gradually edge out foreign rivals. In 2021, it required equipment makers to continue to improve research and development capabilities, especially in such areas as smart equipment and equipment used in hilly areas. In 2022, subsidies were used to encourage Chinese farmers to buy more Chinese-made equipment.

As a result, China saw some big domestic original equipment manufacturers emerging in recent years. The top three tractor makers by market share in the first half of 2020 were all state-owned Chinese companies – YTO Group, Weichai Group (Lovol) and Dongfeng Motor, according to the Shenzhen-based consulting firm ASKCI. For harvesters, Lovol, a private company called World Group, and the Japanese maker Kuboda were the top three players in China.

“This equipment is powered by a complex hydraulic system and uses a wet brake,” Niu said. “The design was meant to boost power and efficiency, and it also requires professional oils,” known as universal tractor transmission oil (UTTO). The old tractors often seen in Chinese rural areas, he added, use dual-purposed oil N100 and N100D, occasionally even general hydraulic oils.

“N100D is highly competitive in price and there are a number of small oil suppliers in the market,” he said. “However, the oil has a short oil life and does little other than lubrication. It might work OK for small, old-style equipment, but does not cater for large, modernized equipment that requires oils featuring anti-wear, anti-oxidation and has a long life.”

In March 2021, Sinopec’s lube brand Great Wall launched UTTO-R hydraulic oil. According to the company, UTTO-R is compatible with large equipment from all major OEMs and has been tested in some John Deere tractors in Xinjiang and Case IH harvesters in Heilongjiang province with few issues. But Niu said that global OEMs have their own specifications and that oil suppliers could work with additives companies to ensure compliance.

In March 2022, Sinopec published an industry standard for hydraulic system oils used in modern agricultural equipment, aiming to position itself as a leader in the area where it faces competitors, like Tongyi and Copton.