UK pea harvesting company Ploeger celebrates sustained growth
7:00 a.m. March 12, 2022
A company making huge harvesting machinery in the heart of Norfolk has continued its recent growth – despite the challenges of Brexit, Covid and cost inflation.
Ploeger UK have been manufacturing in Fakenham for 50 years and believe their colossal pea and bean harvesters are the largest self-propelled harvesters built in the UK.
The Holt Road company makes 15-20 of these machines a year, each worth £500,000-600,000, depending on specification.
But even through the uncertainties of the past three years, growers’ desire to invest in the latest technology has not waned – with the company recording nearly 10% annual growth, taking its annual revenue to 16 million pounds.
Site manager Julian Smith attributes this to the ever-present need for food, the loyalty of the company’s customers and the skills of its experienced workforce.
“It’s something quite special that’s produced in the sleepy town of Fakenham,” he said.
“This business has been around for many years and there is a lot of skill in all of our people, from design to shop floor, across the full spectrum of the business.
“It’s Fakenham’s best kept secret – but we think it’s something Fakenham should be proud of.
“We’ve certainly seen growth over the past few years. I think no matter what’s going on in the world, we all have to eat. And we have a loyal customer base who keep coming back for orders.
“These are customers who have been in this business for as many years as we have. Some will regularly change their fleet on a cycle every year, and some will run their machines until they are basically dead. We We have machines there that are 20 years old.”
There are currently five GP1189 pea harvesters on the company’s production line, and each one will take about 1,250 hours to build, involving 25 people for assembly and painting.
Three of the machines are destined for Italy, one for Austria and one for the United Kingdom. The company also has customers as far away as New Zealand, Tasmania and South Africa.
Each machine includes 2,500 parts, sourced from all over Europe, including France, Germany and Denmark.
With such an international operation, the added cost and complexity of post-Brexit trade has affected the company – especially its parts imports.
“If we wanted something urgently before Brexit, you could expect delivery within 24 hours,” Mr Smith said. “Now it could take 5-7 days.
“It’s not so much an impact on production, but spare parts can be a problem because when the machines are harvesting, they’re running 24/7. I’d hate to think what it would mean if we made someone wait five days.”
Claire Dunnett, Head of Finance and Corporate Administration, added: “We have safety stocks of critical items, and from the time we’ve been in production you tend to know what items they are. , so luckily we didn’t have to keep anyone waiting for that amount of time.”
Shipping and documentation costs have also increased, and one of the biggest issues is the cost of steel, which has increased by 30-60%. As a result, the cost of machines has risen this year, Smith said.
But continued financial growth means the company has also bolstered its team, including four apprentices who joined in September, and continues to recruit to bolster the 53 workforce.
One employee who has a unique perspective on the company’s development is Acting Assistant Supervisor Liam O’Sullivan.
The 44-year-old first joined as an apprentice but left in 2000 to run the Gallery Bistro in the city centre.
He joined Ploeger UK 20 years later when the Covid pandemic forced the closure of his business, which he then sold.
He said while the basic principles of the machines are the same, technological innovations now include load-sensing hydraulics and touch-screen electronic control systems.
“When I was here 20 years ago the harvesting procedures were basically the same, but the technology has advanced tremendously and to be a part of that now is really interesting,” he said.
Mr O’Sullivan said the company’s manufacturing heritage should be celebrated, adding: “We should shout about it and make people proud that we have this world leading product in Fakenham, and that the people of Fakenham and surrounding areas have been working on it for many years.”
The company was originally called FMC Technologies, then PMC Harvesters after it was taken over by the Dutch company Ploeger in 2002.
Renamed Ploeger UK in 2020, the company builds harvesters for peas and beans and shredders for maize.