Any farmer who’s ever worn a hat with a machinery-brand logo on it has likely heard of Belarus tractors, although that doesn’t mean all those farmers ever believed that Belarus really measured up to the top-selling North American-built machines, whether in green, red, blue or yellow.
That’s fair enough, because right from their introduction to Canada in the early 1970s, Belarus never intended its tractors to be everything that the more familiar brands were striving for.
Instead, the brand’s promoters fervently believed the economy-priced tractors built in a factory in Minsk, Belarus, were more than equal in one very important way: they delivered no-frills, brute horsepower on a shoestring budget.
I can remember talking to one Saskatchewan farmer many years ago who had an entire fleet of Belarus machines. He claimed the low purchase and repair cost of his machines helped keep him in business during the lean ’80s when low farm gate commodity prices were punishing the industry.
The original Canadian Belarus distributor ceased operations a decade or so ago, and so, for all intents and purposes, the brand went away. In 2015, however, it officially came back, this time with a new distributor and a new brand name, MTZ.
Because of potential legal issues surrounding the Belarus brand name in Canada, the new company simply chose to import models wearing the factory’s alternate nameplate.
“It’s the same manufacturer, for sure,” explained Arie Prilik, vice-president of sales and marketing for MTZ Equipment, the brand’s new North American distributor during our interview at the time. “They were sold in Canada under the Belarus brand name and the factory itself is Minsk Tractor Works (which is where the MTZ acronym comes from). It’s kind of like Chevy, Pontiac and Oldsmobile. The factory was always using two brand names.”
MTZ Equipment has actually been operating in Canada since 2009, but Prilik said the company was busy during that time obtaining emissions certification for the tractors’ engines and setting up a dealer and parts distribution network.
Once again, price is what the company sees as a major draw for attracting farmers to the brand. But in today’s market there’s one extra new and compelling advantage marketers are pushing: there are no sophisticated engine emissions systems to contend with.
“The biggest claim to fame for our tractors is we’re still allowed to bring Tier 3 engines, which are much simpler than the more complicated Tier 4s,” Prilik said. “Environment Canada is running a program called Transition, which allows us to bring in Tier 3s until 2018. It’s based on a U.S. program. It allows for a limited exemption. We just have the right timing, I guess. The majors ran their exemptions within the first year of the program, because of the volumes they make.”
Aside from the absence of emissions systems, marketers also emphasize the overall simplicity of the tractors’ designs. But don’t confuse simple with outdated, said Prilik. The lower-horsepower four-cylinder tractors in the line do get only basic synchronized transmissions. However, larger, six-cylinder models are also available with either a power shift or CVT option. And most tractors offer some standard features like a built-in hydraulic joystick control, radial tires and a quick-change PTO shaft, which can be unavailable or extra-cost options in the “economy” models with other brands.
Initially, the brand launched a range of 84- to 212-horsepower models. But in that first interview, Prilik said there were firm plans to add more tractors to the line. He explained that in the future MTZ Equipment even planned to break into the high-horsepower, articulated tractor market by adding models built at the Kirovets factory in St. Petersburg, Russia.
It seems the future has now arrived for MTZ. The brand has just added the 428-horsepower K744 Kirovets model to its line, with the first examples newly arrived in Canada in June.
“At only US$198,000, MSRP (base price), this affordable, powerful tractor allows farmers to reduce significantly their input cost and keep more money in their pockets,” the company declared in a May press release. “Loaded with most popular options (duals, PTO, in-cab hitch control) the tractor is priced at US$227,730, saving US$130,000 to US$200,000 compared to similarly equipped major competitors.”
Taking advantage of that legal emissions rules exemption, the K744 arrives with a Tier 3 OM460LA turbocharged Mercedes Benz diesel under the hood, so it won’t require DEF or a particulate exhaust filter.
Behind the K744’s German engine is a 16F/8R partial power shift allowing on-the-go gear changes within each of four forward ranges and two reverse. The tractor rides on a suspended front axle and has a respectable 300 l/min. hydraulic flow rating.
It also comes equipped with a category III and IV three-point rear hitch, which has a lift capacity of 9,000 kilograms. “Self-locking” differentials help improve traction.
MTZ Equipment is also looking to increase its network of dealers across the U.S. and Canada. For more information, check out mtzequipment.com.