HUNDREDS of farmers attended a special event featuring £1.5 million-worth of machinery to celebrate 25 years of business between Carlisle-based Carrs Billington and Massey Ferguson.

The event at Borderway Mart’s exhibition hall on November 28 was attended by more than 550 visitors who travelled from locations including Northumberland, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Country Durham. They were able to see a wide range of Massey Ferguson tractors and machinery from 1994 to the present day, including MF Next Edition tractors.

The event included a demonstration of Massey Ferguson’s MF Connect. A raffle and competition raised more than £150 for Carrs Billington’s chosen charity WellChild, for which it also raises money with its purple silage bales.

Machinery director Ian Gate introduced Carrs Group chairman Chris Holmes at the event, one of his last in the role of chairman before he hands over to Peter Page, former chief executive of Devro plc and now Carrs chairman designate, in January. Mr Holmes was joined in the opening by Massey Ferguson’s UK and Ireland national sales manager, William Judge.

Mr Holmes, as chief executive of Carrs in the 1990s, was instrumental in the acquisition of Bairds of Annan and the agricultural division of County Motors in Carlisle and Penrith.

The move forged a relationship which gave Carrs, already a thriving company, its first link with a world leading tractor manufacturer - Massey Ferguson.

In turn by joining with Carrs Agriculture, Massey Ferguson gained a dealer with strong connections to the communities it served which was able to support the brand by providing high quality sales, service and parts cover-age.

The new partnership was so effective that revenue on farm machinery rose by 25 per cent and overall group turnover rose to £54 million that year.

Mr Holmes said: “The acquisitions of Bairds and County Motors’ agricultural division were strategically planned and it has worked very well. I chose Massey Ferguson because I thought they were a company for the future and that they would invest. They had an excellent reputation, particularly for livestock tractors and now much larger machinery.”

Within a short time Carrs had sold more than 150 Massey Ferguson tractors. The first model sold was a four-wheel-drive MF3075.

With the need for more powerful machinery, the dealership moved on from selling the 122hp MF6180 in 1995 to selling its first 320hp MF 8732 in 2018.

Alongside the growth of Carrs Billington Agriculture, which now has dealership branches in Annan, Carlisle, Hexham, Barnard Castle, Morpeth and Penrith, Massey Ferguson sales have ensured the dealership is the premier for the brand in the North of England and South-West Scotland and a key player in the UK.

Mr Holmes added: “When we opened our first purpose-built branch in Penrith in 1995 under manager Ian Powley we got 700 people on the opening night. Our most recent new branch premises in Annan several years ago attracted 1,000 people to its opening. It shows how the partnership is working well and the interest from customers is there. Both companies have invested in the future to satisfy our customers' needs.”

Mr Holmes, who ends almost three decades at the helm of Carrs, initially as chief executive of Carrs Billington and then Carrs Group and latterly as chairman of Carrs Group, said: “During that time we have seen crises such as BSE, foot and mouth and now we face changes in agriculture with Brexit, but we emerge from these challenges stronger in the end.

“Farmers in the North of England and Scotland have got every advantage to meet our future food requirements in a very positive and environmentally friendly way, more so than in other parts of the world, in terms of food standards and food miles. Hopefully, the British public will appreciate that in the long term.”

Massey Ferguson, which at the time of the partnership in 1994 had been a leading UK tractor brand for 30 years, has since expanded its range of farm equipment into mowers, balers, combine harvesters, tedders, rakes and telehandlers.

MF’s William Judge introduced the audience the company’s latest tool, MF Connect.

“With MF Connect, our customers can now view machinery operations and equipment operating parameters in virtual real time on their mobile phone, tablet or desktop computer.

“This enables farmers and managers to manage operations more effectively, helping to improve operating efficiency with remote diagnostics, ensuring optimum uptime on Stage V machines,” he added.

MF Connect enables users to monitor their entire machinery fleet, including those from other manufacturers that are fitted with the dedicated module. Dealers can provide remote monitoring of machinery and service staff can be involved with preventative maintenance or start trouble-shooting.

Carrs marked the silver anniversary by commissioning a silver MF 7700 series tractor which was purchased earlier in the year by Alan and Sarah Strong of A&S Contracting in Penrith.

A special logo has been designed to mark the 25 years of the two firms working together.