CLAAS underlines commitment to UK as £20m HQ rebuild celebrates milestone
PUBLISHED: 17:08 22 March 2019 | UPDATED: 17:47 22 March 2019
A German-owned agricultural company based in Suffolk is set to continue to invest in the UK - whatever the outcome of the UK's Brexit crisis, says its UK and Ireland boss.
CLAAS UK chief executive Trevor Tyrrell says the agricultural machinery maker, which is owned by a German family of the same name, has strong ties to the area through its UK sales and servicing network, managed from its Suffolk HQ, and its farming arm, Troston Farms, based at Troston, Hengrave and Stanton, and has not been deterred by the 2016 referendum result from seeing through a project which began two years before it.
“Brexit doesn’t worry us at all, because nobody has told me yet that after Brexit, people are going to stop eating,” he says. “We’re not scared of it – bring it on.”
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There will be challenges, he admits, but positives include the possibility of more demand for locally-grown produce. Other factors will depend on issues such as how open the UK keeps its borders (open being the much more preferable option for a business operating both sides of the Irish border).
Even a sharp fall in sterling following a dramatic turn of events, such as a ‘no-deal’ hard Brexit, has its upside.
The lower the pound goes, the better for UK farmers, he points out, as it means that they can export more readily.
Britain is full of large-scale food and drink manufacturers, all requiring crops from the fields to keep them going.
For example, Bury St Edmunds-based brewer Greene King needs 650t of barley a week so it can produce 5m pints of IPA. “There are about 30k farmers feeding 60m people for 60% of our food (the UK is about 60% self-sufficient in food),” says Trevor.
Over a period between 2014 and 2020, Claas UK will have invested more than £20m in a staged rebuild of its UK headquarters in Bury St Edmunds. The HQ houses about 100 of its total 400-strong UK/Ireland workforce. It also works with 80 dealerships.
The works began with a state-of-art academy for its apprentices and experienced staff across 20 locations in the UK and Ireland, which opened in 2017, and has continued with an impressive four-storey central hub, including Trevor on the top floor, together a board room and a meeting room overlooking fields and an anaerobic digestion/biogas plant.
The phase 1 ‘technopark’ means it can offer a better customer experience, which will improve further as the rebuild progresses, including a planned field demonstration area.
The biogas plant is fed with crops from Troston and owned by local farmer, George Gittus, and will power the new building, alongside solar panels planned for the second stage rooftops.
CLAAS has now celebrated the end of phase 1 of the project with the completion of its impressive, modern, glass-fronted multi-storey main building facing out onto the A14 at Saxham.
On March 11, a section of staff moved into it, together with CLAAS’s own dealership arm, MANNS, which occupies the entire bottom floor, and now has an extensive new workshop area which includes large ‘fire engine’ bays and a huge washing bay which is about to become operational.
Phases 2 and 3 are set to follow, with the entire project planned for completion by the summer of 2020.
There are about 1,500 people working across the CLAAS network of dealerships, and the company sells around 4,000 machines a year into Britain and Ireland. It’s known for its combine harvesters, but is fast building up its tractor business – it hopes to sell up to 1k this year – having launched its first tractor series, Xerion, in 1997, followed by the acquisition of Renault Agriculture in France in 2003. Its forage harvesters are also great guns, says Trevor.
Machines range from 50HP to 500HP – and all require servicing and repairing.
So, while robotics in agriculture is on the rise, and the machines have reached a high level of sophistication, that requires more skilled people to fix and service them, he says, so he sees his workforce growing strongly.
CLAAS is a huge multi-national operation today, still family-owned, and based at Harsewinkel in Germany.
UK farmers will typically change machines every three, four or five years, hanging onto them a bit longer in the lean years, and snapping them up within a two or three year window in the good ones, so the market for CLAAS products remains intact – Brexit or no Brexit.
“Worst case scenario would be a very strong pound following a soft Brexit and at the same time, farm subsidies are stopped completely,” said Trevor, whose family still farms beef cattle in County Kildare.
As the second son, Trevor came off the farm and headed to Cranfield University in 1989 and has been in the UK ever since, working his way up the CLAAS UK hierarchy, from trainee product manager to sales director and eventually CEO of UK, Ireland and also of Australia and New Zealand.