1987 - Volume #11, Issue #2, Page #05[ Sample Stories From This Issue | List of All Stories In This Issue | Print this story | Read this issue]
Nebraska Tractor Test Lab Struggling to SurviveIt appears that farmers will be the big losers in a political battle that threatens to put the University of Nebraska's world-famous Tractor Testing Laboratory out of business. "We hope to survive by branching out into other areas, such as running performance tests on farm equipment for shortline manufacturers. But it looks like we've come to the end of the road for tractor testing," laments Dr. Louis Leviticus, chief engineer of the $2 million laboratory which he feels has been "let down" by the farm equipment industry it has monitored for the past 67 years.
The laboratory was testing right at 45 tractors per year until 1986 when the number dwindled to 16. "We haven't tested any tractors so far this year, nor do we have a single one booked for testing," Dr. Leviticus told FARM SHOW two weeks ago.
Since 1919, Nebraska law has mandated that no tractor can be legally advertised or sold in that state (the only one with such a law) unless a representative model is officially tested. The law exempts tractors under 20 hp and crawler-type tractors sold or advertised for non-agricultural use. Because so few tractors are being sold nowadays in Nebraska (1,325 tractors, representing only 1.2% of the total sold throughout the U.S. in 1986), some companies have elected to bypass the state to avoid having to pay the testing fee, which runs about $10,000 per tractor, not counting the cost of shipping to and from Lincoln, Neb.
Another problem for manufacturers is that tractors made and sold overseas have to conform to standards of an international network of 24 test stations known as the Organization for Ecomomic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The two tests are similar in many respects, prompting tractor manufacturers to question the need for two tests.
The key turning point came last year when the Nebraska legislature, with the blessings of tractor manufacturers, passed a law which, in effect, says tractors can now be sold in Nebraska if they are either Nebraska or OECD tested. The thinking behind the bill was that the U.S. Commerce Department would then make the Nebraska lab the official OECD test center in the U.S. The anticipated "smooth transition" has been bogged down in a sea of broken promises. The sponsor of the bill maintains that he had received pledges from Deere and Case-IH officials that they, personally, would take responsibility for getting the Nebraska lab designated as the official OECD testing facility in the U.S.
The U.S. Department of Commerce reportedly has turned to the Farm and Industrial Equipment Institute (FIEI), headquartered in Chicago, to determine when and if an OECD testing facility should be established in the U.S. for the relatively small percentage (only 15 to 20%) of tractors made in the U.S. Along that line, FIEI recently invited the Nebraska lab, as a candidate for possible selection as the official OECD test station, to submit a proposal on fees and testing procedures. However, their proposal was "shot down" by tractor manufacturers who felt the proposed fees were too high, running about twice the going rate for having tractors tested in foreign countries where testing costs are generously subsidized.
FARM SHOW has learned that Case-IH plans to bring an OECD-approved test engineer from PAMI (Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute) in Canada ù a government-funded program which aids farmers and manufacturers in the design and selection of agricultural machinery ù to its Steiger factory in Fargo to supervise in-plant performance testing of five new Steiger tractor models. The OECD-approved tractors would then be eligible for sale in Nebraska ù presumably at considerably less cost than shipping the big tractors to Lincoln for a conventional Nebraska test.
"I personally don't feel that a manufacturer, or a trade assocation, should be responsible for performance testing their own products. What good is performance testing if it has no credibility?" asks Dr. Leviticus. He's hopeful, but not overly optimistic, that the Nebraska lab will be designated the official OECD test facility for the U.S. and
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