Bourgault Tillage Tools Ltd.
Bourgault Tillage Tools Ltd. (BTT) manufactures ground engaging tools, including a wide range for tillage, seeding and fertilizing applications. “We build everything for the agricultural machinery that goes into the ground. We build everything from the ‘shank’ down to the cultivators and air seeders,” said Tim Bodvarson, Marketing Manager of BTT.
Bourgault Tillage Tools (BTT) may be operating in a small industrious agricultural community of St. Brieux, north central Saskatchewan, but its products provide reliable service to farmers around the world. The company assigns its business success to high quality products, exceptional customer service, and commitment to automation and innovation.
Originally part of F.P. Bourgault Industries/Cultivator Division Ltd., in 1991 Jos Bourgault and six former employees established a fully autonomous business entity — F.P. Bourgault Tillage Tools Ltd., an independent business with separate ownership and management from Bourgault Industries Ltd. Tim Bodvarson told The Canadian Business Journal, “While we became separate companies in the past, we still maintain certain business relationships with Bourgault Industries, as this company focuses on manufacturing of agricultural machinery. Besides Australia, through this partnership we have established representation in Russia and several Eastern European countries.”
At the beginning, BTT focused on selling its products in Western Canada and the northern United States. Most of the company business came from Canada at the time, then establishing a solid dealer network throughout the northern United States. In 2001, the company expanded into United Kingdom and Western Europe. Next, the company expanded its distribution into Eastern Europe (Russia and Ukraine, to name a few). Product is also exported to Australia. The company distributes in these countries through various distributors and Original Equipment Manufacturers.
Numbers and Statistics
BTT employs about 75 employees to fulfil the global market demand. BTT’s well-automated production line creates 750,000 forged pieces each year, processing 2,400 tonnes of raw materials. The company sells 77 per cent of its products into the North American market, and the remaining 23 per cent is distributed around the world. About 90 per cent of the company products serve the agricultural aftermarket (selling products as replacement parts directly to farmers), and 10 per cent is sold to be used on new machinery.
The main focus and success of BTT in the agricultural tools market lies with producing high quality products. Bodvarson said, “Quality is the No. 1 [for us] in this industry. That’s why we were able to gain such a strong foothold in Western Europe and continue to grow in this market. The products that are produced and distributed in European countries tend to be lower-cost products, focused on driving down the price, whereas we focus on making sure that we provide very consistent, high quality product at all times. That’s what gained us our foothold in Europe as well as in North America.”
While in Europe the Canadian quality sells even in Germany – a market synonymous with superior products – BTT works much harder to satisfy its North American clients and beat the competition. “We see higher competition in North America as the American manufacturers follow the same ‘quality first’ philosophy. That’s why we have to compete here more on service, and research and development. As far as R&D goes, having just a little advantage in the placement of the seed or the fertilizer at the right place, or having the right angle on the sweep, give us the market advantage; and on the engineering front, the customers do prefer our product. As far as customer service goes, because we are situated in the heart of the prairies, we are able to provide solid service to our customers, so if there is a problem with the product, we can dispatch the maintenance team right away.”
In terms of production, the company continues to invest heavily in technology and constantly seeks new opportunities for automation. The company automated the most of its production processes — everything from automated sensors that measure the amount of steel rolling into the production, and the large sheer presses that automatically cut the metal, all the way to the finished product. “We currently have five robotic welders and may add more robots in the future. Our production also utilizes laser cutters, and we are looking into automating our forging process as well, as our forge operators currently walk more than 2.5 miles in a single 8-hour shift. Automation really is the name of the game for us. Automation also gives us the upper hand as to the product quality, because technology, such as the automated welders, gives us a consistent high quality product.”
In the 1990’s, a new agricultural innovation entered agriculture in a major way — ‘minimum-till farming’. The idea of this practice is to seed and fertilize with minimal soil disturbance. This forced the industry to create tools for precision placement of the seed, fertilizer, etc., and to push companies such as BTT to invest in research and development and to seek the best way to accommodate the needs of this form of farming. “Today, in 2012, BTT along with the whole tillage tools industry continue to seek the best ways to accommodate the needs of minimum-till farming. We have a dedicated R&D team and R&D manager, and we involve our sales team in the R&D process as well. We continue to test different products and ideas in the field and third party testing to find the right configuration for both tillage and minimum-till farming tools.”
The R&D team also follows the company around the world, engaging with farmers and listening to their needs. Tradeshows are still the main driver in the tillage tools market, and the company visits about a half-dozen shows in Western Canada, the northern United States, and around the world each year, including Agritechnica — the world’s largest exhibition of agricultural machinery and equipment set in Hanover, Germany, with more than 2,300 exhibitors and 18 exhibition halls, covering 320,000 square metres. “While we often meet our existing clients, our R&D team also comes to talk to people we have been testing with or people that may be interested in testing with us, so tradeshows are a great way to get marketplace exposure in North America and around the world.”