MUMBAI, India – Suppliers may better target Indias strong tractor oil segment if they understand how operators make maintenance decisions – a goal of a recent survey by lubricant additive supplier Afton Chemical.
Tractor fluids made up 10 percent of Indias total lubes market in 2016, Afton Chemical India Pvt. spokesman Harshad Jambaulikar said at an industry conference here last month. Indias tractor industry could grow by around 15 percent annually over the next five years, pending normal monsoon seasons, he said. Annual tractor oil demand, therefore, is projected to grow from nearly 80,000 metric tons last year to more than 106,000 tons by 2020.
To tap demand growth, its necessary to understand the mindset of farmers and end users, the senior regional manager noted. With that in mind, Afton commissioned a survey that focused on tractors with more than 40 horsepower and with oil-immersed brakes sold after the year 2000. The survey, which covered both wet and dry farming, spanned the country in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh.
The survey asked farmers and mechanics myriad questions regarding how and from whom they buy fluids for their equipment and sought to understand standard maintenance practices across different types of tractor types and usages.
The first insight was quite unlikely, Jambaulikar explained at the ICIS Indian Base Oils & Lubricants Conference on April 6. Farmers consider tractors to be a part of their family, he said.
As a solution for poor labor availability and a means to minimize labor costs, tractors are used more than ever. But they are also used more in transportation and haulage applications – and even in weddings, Jambaulikar added.
A farmer from Maharashtra echoed the sentiment. The tractor helps us save labor costs and also time in completing field work, Ganesh Somani, a farmer from the Akola district of Maharashtra, told Lube Report Asia. It is like a family member because it gives us continuous income. We pray to our tractors daily before starting work.
Jambaulikar said improvements in tractor technology have brought huge success for farmers, who therefore they have an emotional bond with them. The tractor is no longer a piece of equipment used on a seasonal basis, but rather has evolved into a multi-functional workhorse. Its a piece of equipment that is considerably used all around the year because it is making money even when it is not on the field, Jambaulikar noted. Today, approximately 30 percent of Indias more than 7 million tractors are used in non-farming applications.
The survey, which interviewed 80 farmers and 10 local mechanics across six states, found that operators trust and are influenced the most by their peer groups and local mechanics when it comes to learning more about oil selection and maintenance practices. In contrast, sales representatives, retailers, agencies, newspapers and advertisements played a much smaller role in influencing buying decisions.
Jambaulikar noted that lubricant suppliers would be wise to recruit mechanics as brand ambassadors.
I stick to branded lubricants for my tractor due to the trust factor, and if theres any doubt I consult my friends and my mechanic, Paras Chaurasiya, a farmer in Uttar Pradesh, said during an interview. However, I go with mechanics advice only when Im convinced and feel that he doesnt have any vested interest.
Somani, the farmer from Maharashtra who has operated his tractor for the past 12 years, agreed. Those who have been using the tractor for long do come to know about tractor problems and can tell if the mechanic is honest or not when he tells about the problem in the tractor and its solution. However, we do trust our regular mechanic.
A mechanic operating the Panesar Tractor Repair Workshop in Nabha, Punjab, told Lube Report Asia that operators follow mechanics advice, but only after a period of time spent developing a trustworthy relationship. Many people who come to us, listen to us. If we do the work properly then they will trust us and come back again, said Prakash Singh, who has offered tractor repair services for the past 35 years.
A seller of tractor parts and related products in the Bhonti village of Madhya Pradesh elaborated. Farmers and customers trust mechanics more easily than they do shop owners, said Umashankar Gupta, who runs Jai Maa Tractor Parts shop. Mechanics give a genuine opinion if they are not selling any products. I have seen at least seven or eight out of 10 customers listening to mechanics advice. However, they prefer an experienced mechanic to do their repair works.
Repairs are different for tractors used in wet versus dry farming. The countrys northern region uses mostly dry farming methods, whereas southern states use wet farming. The survey highlighted that in wet farming, the stress on universal tractor transmission oils is diminished thanks to softer ground. However, UTTOs must be replaced due to higher water ingress. In dry farming, the stress on UTTOs is high because the tractor needs more power from hydraulics as the land is harder, and dust and metal contamination present problems as well.
Jambaulikar said demand is gradually shifting to oil-immersed brakes for tractors with more than 41 horsepower, which accounted for around half of over 600,000 tractors estimated to have been sold in India in 2016. He noted that UTTOs are key in wet-brake systems. Tractor operators in India generally follow original equipment manufacturers recommendations for engine oils, but they show somewhat lax behavior when it comes to following recommendations for gear oils, he added.
We need to change the engine oil and other things that are necessary if we have used the tractor for 250 to 300 hours in the field, said Chaurasiya, who has been using his tractor to plow his fields for at least four years. Maharashtrian farmer Somani agreed.
Jambaulikar said oil-immersed brake systems offer value to farmers, but the noise they make remains a sore point for tractor operators. Advanced lubricants, however, can reduce noise in addition to providing lubricity.
Headquartered in Virginia in the United States, Afton Chemical is a wholly-owned subsidiary of NewMarket Corp. It develops and markets additives for gasoline and distillate fuels, driveline fluids, engine oils, industrial lubricants and does custom research projects.