Report compiled by Matthew Cawood.
In the US, the “land of the free,” roll over protection structures (ROPS) remain an optional extra on new and old tractors – which accounts for why there are about 250 deaths from tractor rollovers each year. For Hercules ROPS, a Victorian company which through innovative design has one of the world’s largest listings of retrofit ROPS designs, this statistic spells opportunity.
The growing concern among the US’s occupational health agencies about the cost of tractor rollovers – responsible for one in five farm deaths in the US – encouraged Hercules ROPS to attend this year’s World Ag Expo in Tulare, California, as part of its assault on a market where two million tractors don’t have ROPS.
Adopting the advice of Austrade and those Australian companies that have successfully broached the US market, Hercules ROPS managing director, Martin Cooper, regards the exercise as a successful preliminary skirmish in what could be a protracted campaign to crack the extensive potential waiting in the US. Mr Cooper said the company didn’t return from the US “carrying pots of gold,” but it made strong contacts and gained potentially valuable market intelligence. “I expect we’ll be back in the US in the next six months, and we’re likely to be at the World Ag Expo again next year,” he said. “We have significant interest, but we also have to change the mentality of the US market.”
On the side of Hercules ROPS are the occupational health agencies, like the New York Centre for Agricultural Medicine and Health, which has appointed the Melbourne company its preferred ROPS supplier. The Virginian State occupational health agency is also acting as a dealer for the product line, while Hercules has had a Californian-based distributor, Ron DePue, Homestead Tractors, distributing its products throughout the US and Canada for the past year.
Hercules ROPS is tackling the US market with a catalogue of modular, cost-effective ROPS, that retrofit most of the popular makes and sizes of the small tractors the company is targeting. “As our ROPS designer, Frank Ford, said “even with the smallest tractor sitting on your chest, your first breath will almost certainly be your last,” Mr Cooper said. “Farmers don’t tend to get rid of their small tractors – they just keep on running. Ford made 17 million of its 8N tractors, and it’s estimated there are still 13 million of them operating around the world.”
The company’s ROPS engeering – by protection structure design guru, Frank Ford, whose work has been used by John Deere, Massey Ferguson, Ford and the Australian Army – is unique in that its modular structure allows one design to fit many tractors, bringing down fabrication costs. Hercules’ main ROPS design, aimed specifically at the small tractor market, can be broked down to fit in a carton postable via the US Postal Service.
Hercules ROPS was offering the North Amercian market a better range of ROPS options than most local dealers, while staying cost effective, despite shipping costs.
The challenge now was to persuade US occupational health and safety agencies to pressure the nation’s farmer to retrofit ROPS to their old tractors. “In countries like Australia and Sweden, where rollover protection is legislatively mandated, rollover fatalities are virtually non-existant,” Mr Cooper said.