If you were a farm equipment manufacturer in a country that is its own continent, where would you look to make your first expansion into the international market?
For the Australian company K-Line, the choice was easy. Head to North America.
“It’s really one of the best moves we’ve made, as far as our company goes, because it’s set us on the world stage and made us far more competitive,” says Bill Larsen, director of sales and marketing for K-Line. “We’re a smaller company and we needed a solid market base so our factories don’t stop.”
Generating sales into foreign countries has also been a key strategy for Canadian manufacturers. Having multiple market outlets means a tough year for farmers in any one region is less less likely to threaten overall demand and force the firm to scale back production.
But K-Line wasn’t willing to simply make a blind leap of faith, according to Larsen. The brand found a North Dakota farmer willing to work with them and put their Speedtiller tillage implement to some real-world testing.
“In 2012 we brought some machines over and a local farm family started using them on their own farms,” Larsen says. “In 2013, we said this is working. We’re going to market. We sold quite a lot of machines and for four years we’ve had a steady growth. The growth phase has been quite good in Canada.”
After a season of field trials, K-Line signed a dealer agreement with the Flaman Rentals chain, which wanted to add the Speedtiller to their rental equipment fleet. That provided the company with even more feedback from a broad range of users operating in a variety of Canadian conditions.
“For Saskatchewan and Alberta, Flaman has become our distributor,” Larsen says. “They’ve been used in rentals and now we’re opening them up to the retail market.”
The company found farmers in Western Canada were using the Speedtiller for similar reasons and under similar conditions as producers in the brand’s home market in Australia.
“The line of product that we’re currently offering in North America is the Speedtiller,” Larsen says. “It’s a high speed disc tilling machine. We’re selling a lot to farmers who for years now have been doing minimum till or zero till. And they’re finding due to disease, chemical resistant weeds, or high residue issues, they’re falling back on strategic tillage, a one-pass tillage solution. And that’s really where this tiller has done well.”
Designed to work best at nine m.p.h., Speedtillers use individually mounted discs and are available in working widths from 15 to 41 feet. The company also builds three-point hitch mounted versions as small as eight feet.
“It takes the place of a tandem offset disc and a vertical finishing tool all in one,” Larsen says. “It’s a dual-purpose tool. There are two rows of discs and a roller. They’re on a rubber torsion system but on a very high breakout torsion, a lot higher than anything that’s used over here currently. So they do have the ability to do primary tillage work. They’ll break hay ground.”
In February, K-Line used the National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, Kentucky, to officially introduce the Speedtiller to the overall North American market. The company is now looking to aggressively enter the retail market. And it expects to add another model to its North American lineup before long.
“We have a new product that is coming over this summer,” he said. “We’re going to run it and get the feedback. Then I think we’ll be launching it probably in the fall. It’s called the Trash Cutter. It’s a bit of a unique product and I think it will have a spot in the marketplace.”
As a manufacturer, K-Line is about 80 per cent tillage, but also has a line of hay rakes.
They haven’t been launched in the North American market yet, but two are coming to Canada this summer, and Flaman is going to put them in rental fleets out of Edmonton and Lethbridge. If that proves successful, the rakes will be launched here next year.
“We’re an Australia-based company, and we’ve been around since 1991,” adds Larsen.
“We’re actually a farming family that started a business manufacturing farm machinery like many other companies. But we’re here and we’ve proved ourselves in Canada and the U.S.”