You might think there are already enough tractor makes on offer in the UK, but one firm reckons there is still space for new compact tractor entrants. James Rickard checks out the new Branson Tractors UK range.
Compact tractor specialist, the Compact Tractor Company (CTC), has become the sole UK importer of Branson Tractors.
Produced by South Korean company Kukje, the tractors are already well established in North America, with about 200 dealers, and more recently have set up shop in Western Europe with importers in several countries including Germany where about 600 units are sold each year.
No stranger to servicing and providing backup, CTC has been operating since 2011, originally as a distributor and ‘one-stop-shop’ for New Holland compact tractors, but now wants to go its own way by importing tractors.
CTC first showed its line-up of Branson tractors, ranging from 21hp to 74hp (see the range below), at the grounds care specialist show, Saltex, in November. Its next major showing will be at Lamma 2016, where it hopes its larger tractors will appeal to farmers. Next September will also see the company introduce larger machines up to 110hp.
However, in a turbulent machinery market, what makes another manufacturer think they can make it in the UK? Branson Tractors UK managing director, Nathan Walker says: “As a well established compact tractor specialist, we know the market well and already have good relationships with dealers. As a result, they have the confidence we will back them up with parts, warranty, etc.”
It seems to be on the right track too. Since its first UK showing, CTC has already picked up several dealers and estimates to be in double figures by Christmas. The big ambition for the firm is to have 20 to 25 Branson Tractors dealers (40-50 outlets) in the UK within the next 18 months.
Main competition for Branson Tractors is likely to come from other South Korean manufacturers such as Tym and Kioti, if Kioti is still around next year, but the company is also not shy about taking on the big boys. Mr Walker explains; “Our product is more than capable of going up against the more well established brands. Based on level of spec we offer, Branson Tractors come out very favourably in terms of value for money.”
To get a flavour of the Branson Tractor range, we tried out the more ag-appealing and largest, 74hp, K78 model.
Equipped with three double acting spools at the rear and two in the middle, air conditioning, electric linkage control and adjustable reach and rake steering column as standard, it does seem you get a big bang for your buck.
Styling is nothing to write home about and those cheap-looking decals do not do it any favours, but up-close the tractor looks well put together and exudes a good level of robustness.
Body work, frames, mudguards, interior plastics, all have a solid feel to them and look like they could take some pain.
Underneath, the engine and transmission are produced by Branson Tractors.
The transmission comprises four ranges (one a creep range) with four gears in each range. A lever to the left of the driver’s seat takes care of range changes, while one to the left looks after the gear changes – bit like driving an old Leyland. However, the latter lever will see you bash your knuckles up against the main console when going for third or fourth. Also, the gears are back to front, with first selected by pulling the lever towards you, but backwards instead of forwards.
Gear changes are pretty slick though and a wet plate clutch provides decent clutch pedal feel without too much effort. In addition, its specified electro-hydraulic shuttle provides smooth direction changes and a high level of convenience for a tractor of this size.
Up front, a portal axle offers a tight turning circle which should prove handy around a yard, and its sealed bevel gear joints ought to make it more resistant to muck and dirt.
In addition, decent lift capacity, a plentiful choice of spools and a three-speed pto will help increase the tractor’s versatility.
As well as yard work, we would be more than happy to take the tractor topping, tedding and raking for example.
Cab layout is simple and easy to fathom and a few luxuries such as electronic linkage control make set-up and control a bit easier.
A practical one-piece bonnet makes servicing easier, but the radiator cores do not fold or slide out to offer better access.
Overall, it is fair to say we are impressed with the K78. Yes it has a few quirks, but on the whole its perceived build quality and plentiful features seem to offer good value for money, representing a genuine halfway house option between a questionable second hand tractor or a new, big brand alternative.