Anyone who looks closely in Swiss fields will sooner or later come across a machine that has stood the test of time.
It’s affectionately known as the “farmers’ Ferrari” because it has sleek lines and its colour is a distinctive red.
But these two-wheeled workhorses do anything but travel at high speed or attract thousands of spectators. In fact, very often they will be seen standing alone, with or without a cover over the engine.
They are manufactured by Aebi, a medium-sized company in Burgdorf, north of the capital Bern.
“The farmers’ Ferrari, which is a motor mower for Swiss farmers and is also used abroad, is typical of the machines we have produced for many years,” Aebi’s head of marketing Rolf Egli told swissinfo.
“You can use them everywhere where you have to cut grass and clear green areas,” he added.
With its 14-horsepower petrol engine, this motor mower or multipurpose pedestrian tractor uses much less fuel than a real Ferrari and its price tag is much lower too.
And you don’t have to be a Michael Schumacher or Rubens Barrichello to be able to drive one.
“You can learn to drive the machine in a couple of minutes. The main difference (from a real Ferrari) is that you walk behind it. You just use two handles and it doesn’t move any faster than you can walk,” Egli said.
Although they are easy to find in Switzerland, their long-term future is anything but secure because of the changes that have taken place in Swiss agriculture.
“They’re very popular on Swiss farms but their number is going down because the number of farms and farmers is declining,” Egli explained.
Change in strategy
Changes in the Swiss agricultural landscape prompted Aebi to rethink its strategy years ago.
In 1990, Aebi earned nine out of ten francs from agricultural machines. It now earns less than half of that from the farming community, with 50 per cent of production now going for export.
The emphasis these days is making machines that are purpose built for steep slopes and they do a lot more than mow grass or crops.
“The most important product is the Terratrac which is a special tractor capable of working on very steep slopes. It can mow crops and is also used to prepare ski areas, for example in the United States, before the snows fall,” Egli told swissinfo.
“It’s special in that it has a very low centre of gravity which makes it very secure on steep slopes. And it is very light so that it is very good at protecting the surface of the ground,” he added.
The four-wheel drive vehicle can carry out a whole range of different chores, including sportsground maintenance, lawn regeneration, hay making, snow clearance using a snowplough, snow clearance using a snow blower, and golf course maintenance.
And the company’s multipurpose all-terrain transporter with attachments and implements can be used, for example, as a loading ramp, lifting device, muck spreader or three-way tipper.
To stay financially sound, Aebi has expanded. It acquired an Austrian farm and public works manufacturer in 1998 and the following year took over the MFH company of Hochdorf near Lucerne, which specialises in road sweeping machines.
swissinfo, Robert Brookes
The Aebi company of Burgdorf was founded in 1883 by Johann Ulrich Aebi (1846–1919).
It is the Swiss leader in the manufacture of machinery for the mechanical cultivation of topographically difficult terrain.
It develops, manufactures and sells machinery and equipment for agriculture, public works, the maintenance of grass areas and snow clearance.
The company has won a string of awards for innovation and design.
Aebi’s two-wheeled “farmers’ Ferrari” is a motor mower that can be seen all over Switzerland.
The decline in the number of Swiss farms and farmers forced the company to look for other markets.
The company now earns most of its money from machines that are not specifically used in agriculture.
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