Farm machinery maker CLAAS celebrates record sales

Father and daughter Helmut Claas and Cathrina Claas-Mühlhäuser. Cathrina now heads up CLAAS, a multi

Father and daughter Helmut Claas and Cathrina Claas-Mühlhäuser. Cathrina now heads up CLAAS, a multinational company which makes farm machinery and which is based in Germany - Credit: Archant

An agricultural machinery maker which has a UK base in Suffolk is celebrating record sales.

German firm CLAAS, which has a site at Saxham in Bury St Edmunds, saw sales soar to an all-time high of 3.838billion euros (£2.8bn) last year - a slight increase from 2014, when they stood at 3.823bn euros. The firm, based at Harsewinkel in Germany, also saw double-digit growth outside of Europe.

“The task at hand for the new fiscal year will be to continue expanding the market presence of CLAAS in the face of shrinking markets with the help of an attractive product range and high-performance production sites in key regions around the world,” said CLAAS supervisory board chairwoman Cathrina Claas-Mühlhäuser and her father, Helmut Claas, who is also a member of the supervisory board.

Founded by August Claas in 1913, CLAAS has grown to become one of the largest family owned agricultural machinery businesses in the world and is today headed by Cathrina Claas-Mühlhäuser.

The firm’s site at Saxham, which is its base for sales, service and parts support for CLAAS machines throughout the UK and Ireland and is one of the leading suppliers of agricultural machinery in the British Isles, employs more than 100 staff. The Claas family also owns a farm business based at nearby Troston, near Stanton.

The firm said it had been able to increase its sales in spite of a “significant” downturn in the overall market and achieved a return on sales of 4.1%. Meanwhile, its worldwide workforce increased to 11,535, compared to 11,407 the previous year, mainly due to employee growth in China.

“We are delighted that we have been able to overcome the current weakness in the market thanks to our international structure and wide product range. Our double-digit sales growth outside Europe was a positive factor in our results”, said Lothar Kriszun, speaking for the CLAAS executive board.

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The worldwide market for professional agricultural machinery will shrink by around 20% this year, the company said.

Falling commodity prices and relatively new machinery fleets in many areas were having a “noticeably negative” impact on customers’ purchasing decisions, but the firm had been able to further strengthen its position of leadership in Europe, while sales in North and South America were developing positively.

However, Eastern Europe was seeing declines, it said. In Asia, it had achieved further growth in India, while the market for maize pickers stabilised in China.

The company has been focusing on development sites in Russia, France and Germany, launching what it describes as “the most modern agricultural machinery factory in Europe” in the city of Krasnodar in the south of Russia in October.

Shortly after, the company signed a letter of intent with the Russian Federation - with the aim of having CLAAS classified as a “Russian manufacturer”. Demand for efficient harvesting technology is high and there was an ongoing need to modernise, it said.

Two new large-scale test benches were put into operation at the testing centre in Trangé, France, allowing an entire tractor service life to be simulated in four weeks. Meanwhile, warehousing technology at its site in Hamm, Germany, was further modernised.

The firm said its focus has been on developing new services as well as harvesting machines and tractors, and hopes the new Claas Lexion will further consolidate its market-leading position within the premium combine harvester market.

Modifying machines to fulfil new statutory emissions standards has meant further investment and at the moment around one in 10 staff are working in research and development, it added.

While it expects to maintain its sales at the current level, CLAAS says it is expecting another decline in the world market in the current financial year.

“Negative developments in agricultural income and the effects of political and economic crises in emerging markets are causing general restraint towards agricultural machinery purchases,” it said.