Take a wild guess. Over the past 3 decades (1985-2015), the average sales of high horsepower tractors were right around 30,000 units per year. How many years during this period were sales above average? How many were below average? How many were about average? 

For the record, during 14 of those years, row-crop tractor sales were above the 30-year average, 10 were below and 6 were about average.

Based on the most recent Assn. of Equipment Manufacturer sales figures for North America — year-to-date down about 17% vs. same period last year — row-crop equipment will finish 2016 in the “down” column as well.

At the same time, we’re noting just a “little bit” of optimism coming from equipment dealers. In addition to the results of our 2017 Dealer Business Outlook & Trends survey, comments in our last couple of Dealer Sentiment & Business Conditions reports have been less sobering than what we were seeing for the past couple of years.

No doubt, farm equipment sales remain challenging and probably will stay that way into the New Year. But dealers seem to be seeing a little light — albeit a dim one — at the end of their sales tunnel.

Here’s a sampling of comments we’ve been hearing from dealers responding to the Dealer Sentiments survey recently. 

  • “90-120 horsepower tractor preorders are up over last year at this time. Our equipment is up 3% on average.”
  • “We are seeing strong sales in low horsepower 4WD tractors and the attachments associated with these units. Service and parts departments are staying busy, but we expect it to slow when harvest is over.” 
  • “Consumer/turf is still strong, large ag sales are as strong as last year, and combine activity has improved in the short term.” 
  • “We are seeing row-crop equipment buying interest for both new and used equipment. Ag sales are holding steady to 2015 numbers, which is a relief.  We expected them to be down further.”
  • “We are more optimistic about 2016 as inventory is lower, government payments should help year-end buying, we have seen good yields, and commodity prices are steady.”
  • “We are seeing more favorable incentives (financing, retail and bonus incentives) on both ag and turf, which will positively effect sales through the winter.”

Of course, we continue to hear about the continuing challenges of used equipment inventories, but as dealers focus directly on whittling down backlogs (many have told us they won’t sell new if a trade is involved), that light at the end of the tunnel is getting a little more distinct. 

Responding to our October Dealer Sentiments survey, I think one dealer summed it up very nicely. “I think once the smoke clears on this year, things will reset. Customers will get back in the market. Used equipment will be cheaper. New equipment will sell only if it’s discounted. Dealers will only order what they can sell, but farmers and ranchers will still need some equipment.”

With that, the staff of Farm Equipment and Ag Equipment Intelligence would like to wish all of our readers “Happy Thanksgiving.” Despite the tough times, each of us has much to be thankful for.