Farming in 21st Century South Africa is a high-stakes game, with technology playing an increasingly important role. In parallel, service providers must adopt a solutions-driven mindset.

Agriculture plays a significant economic role in South Africa. Besides producing much of the food we eat, it is responsible for exporting products worth $9.5 billion annually. In a country starved for jobs, it is a massive employer—around 868 000 people work in agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing. All in all, according to Statista, the sector adds R129 billion to the country’s gross domestic product.

What’s less well known, perhaps, is that around 80% of South Africa’s agricultural output is produced by between 5 000 and 7 000 farmers.

These high-performance farmers are highly reliant on technology, and are renowned as early adopters of new technologies, from automated irrigation through to the use of data to derive insights into weather patterns, animal, and plant foods and even market movements. The increased use of technology plays a big part in reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment while continuing to increase yields.

In the highly specialised field of agricultural tyres, the impact of increased R&D spend is clear. Tyres are the unsung heroes of any mobility solution, and in the hard world of commercial agriculture they have a critical role to play in improving productivity. In line with this thinking, Bridgestone has steadily increased its R&D spend significantly over the years to improve the design of its tyres and their performance in specific sectors, including agriculture.

When the company launched the new Bridgestone agricultural tyre range into the South African agricultural market, it was on the back of high-tech products, with the flagship being the Bridgestone VT-Tractor tyre. The VT-Tractor, which contain the VF (very high flexion) technology, enhance the performance of the most advanced and heavy machines. With the VF technology, the tyres can preform with a lower inflation pressure, and still carry the same load which leads to lowering your fuel consumption due to a larger footprint for increased traction. The lower inflation pressure not only improves traction, but also the larger footprint reduces soil compaction—but because the increase footprint is achieved without widening the tyre, the impact on crops is minimised.

The end result is better care of the all-important topsoil layer combined with reduced fuel consumption and faster completion times. In addition to the VT-Tractor, the new VX-Tractor enhanced tread rubber compounds, make these tyres tougher and longer lasting than ever before, a huge benefit for farmers.

Using the technology well

However, as the technology itself becomes more sophisticated, demand is growing for service providers to adopt a more solutions-based approach. This means that in parallel to the ongoing quest to keep on developing ever more innovative products, service providers must equip themselves to assist farmers to use these products to maximum effect over the course of their lifetime.

When it comes to agricultural tyres, it must be realised that each farm has its own unique type of soil and topography, and each farming operation has its own strategy in terms of what is grown and how. When these kinds of farming operations consider what investment they will make in tyres, they don’t just need theoretical information about what benefits can be realised, they need specifics related to the farming operation. Even more important, they need ongoing assistance to the ever-changing farming operation to get the most out of these tyres.

The bottom line: tyre manufacturers have to move from a product-centric approach to one that prioritises solutions based on a genuine partnership. For us at Bridgestone, there are two main imperatives. The first is a more consultative sales process, in which highly trained consultants have the skills to understand the needs of each prospective farming client, and then match those needs with the right products.

Secondly, we understand that the after-sales process is arguably even more important. To this end, we are focusing on upskilling our channel partners so that they can provide the ongoing support our farming clients need, including fitment of tyres, checking for correct inflation and performing load studies to fine-tune how the vehicle is set up to maximise productivity.

South Africa’s top farmers have come to rely on high-tech products to continue increasing their yields while reducing costs; increasingly, they are coming to rely on their service providers to help them use these products to best advantage. It’s a solution revolution.