A look at the state of agricultural engineering around a century ago

The end of the year is usually marked by reports that look back on a year and prospects for the next year. In the early 1920s Aberdeen newspapers published reports on the state of the trade in the city and in surrounding areas. These included reference to agricultural engineering activities by key players such as the Bon Accord Engineering Company and C. F. Wilson & Co. As the articles make out the year 1921 was a very difficult one, especially for overseas business and poor economic prospects. 1922 was a bit better, though prices for agricultural implements and machines had fallen significantly.

The articles from the Aberdeen newspapers are quoted at length:

Aberdeen and the north trade reports for 1921

(from Aberdeen and Free Press and Journal, 2 January 1922)

C. F. Wilson and Co., Links Engineering Works, reports that in the early part of the year they had orders from abroad for their oil engines, which would have kept them going for a long period. During the early summer months these foreign orders were suddenly cancelled. The business of this firm, we understand, is largely a foreign one, and at that period they were up against international competition, the conditions being such that they were not able to sell their goods in the countries to which they formerly exported, the foreign exchanges being also very greatly against them. This is still prevailing, and although the firm are receiving a pretty uniform flow of inquiries, business does not result through the adverse circumstances mentioned.

Several countries in the Near East, with which they had a considerable business in pre-war times, have not yet been able to come into the market as purchasers of oil engines. The future, although by no means bright, is beginning to show indications of improvement.

Bon Accord Engineering Company

During the early part of the year business in the Bon Accord Engineering Company’s general and agricultural engineering trade was very brisk, but from then up to the present time business has been gradually declining, and at the present moment is very bad, with poor prospects for the immediate future. Their experience is that there appears to be any number of inquiries, but buyers are holding off waiting for lower prices, as people will not buy on a falling market until they are sure that the bottom prices have been reached, as even with the reduction in costs which have so far taken place, prices of the manufactured goods are still too high.

In their foreign trade, in which they used to do a very large business prior to the war, they were finding the same conditions ruling-namely, that prices, coupled with the adverse rate of exchange in most of the countries, make the cost prohibitive from the buyer’s point of view.

The reports received from these countries are that they would like to buy British-made goods, and are willing to give a preference so far as price is concerned, but that they cannot afford to pay the big prices now being asked. This is all the more disappointing, as in many cases the goods are still being supplied from Germany at much lower prices. It is found that in some cases, with the prices being so high that in some of these countries they are starting to make these goods themselves, which means that once they begin to do so, they will never come to this country for them. With costs of production down considerably there would be plenty of business to be got, but until that time prospective customers will lie off.

Engineering dull (Aberdeen press and journal, 3 January 1923)

Transit costs a handicap in contracts

The engineering trade has had its full share of the general depression, but there is a feeling that the prospects at this time are very much better than was the case a year ago. That is not to say that they are particularly bright, but there is a more optimistic atmosphere. Keen competition is apparent and the trade is hopeful that with reduced prices the confidence of buyers will be restored and long before the end of 1923 there will be an improvement in trade conditions generally. Locally the industry is considerably retarded so far as south contracts are concerned by the cost of transit, which would require to be considerably modified to meet the handicap of distance.

Agricultural engineering

Business in the agricultural engineering trade during 1922 has been wonderfully good and certainly better than it was last year. Further prospects are distinctly more hopeful than they were a year ago. In the trade there is an impression that business is in a much better position locally than generally throughout the country, and that farmers in the North of Scotland are in a much better position than those in England. Prices of all agricultural implements are lower by 30 to 40 per cent than they were twelve months ago, and the opinion is expressed that there is little chance of much further reduction in the coming year.

Messrs Barclay, Ross, and Hutchison, Ltd, engineers, millwrights, and implement makers, report that business has been fairly satisfactory. They have considerably more work in hand than they had at the end of 1921, and the prospect of getting further orders is much brighter.

Quite a contrast between the two years!