This Alabama company is looking to bring back small family farms.
|The Oggun tractor made its debut at DeKalb Farmers Co-op in Rainsville in July. The management team at the Co-op is (from left) Bud Murdock, manager; Ronny Neely, general manager; and Andrea Nolen, assistant manager.|
On a hot, July day, as the sun beamed down, people young and old came to DeKalb Farmers Co-op in Rainsville.
They were there to see something new, an Oggun tractor.
"We are taking orders today," said Andrea Nolen, assistant manager at the Co-op.
As Nolen spoke, a youngster sat on the display tractor as his father talked to David McGriff, a farm advisor for the tractor.
"It’s an ideal fit for the small farmer," McGriff said.
He said the tractor is perfect for a young person wanting to farm.
"It’s a simple operation," he added.
The simple operation is the brainchild of two longtime friends, Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal. The two men have formed CleBer LLC based in Jackson County where Clemmons lives.
It is the first U.S. company approved by the Cuban government to do business in Cuba since the United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations.
"Tractors for Cuba was an easy conclusion," Clemmons said. "The Cuban government had clearly stated that importing $2 billion of food annually was a problem that urgently needed to be solved."
|David McGriff, a farm advisor for CleBer LLC, gives demonstrations of the Oggun tractor.|
The Oggun tractor is similar to the first tractors built for 40-acre farms in the United States. Clemmons said it’s based on the Allis-Chalmers version built from 1948 to 1955.
All patents on the Allis-Chalmers tractor have expired, so he and Berenthal hired an engineer to model a tractor like it with some adjustments.
According to Clemmons, the Cuban government doesn’t want agribusiness but does want small, family farms.
While the Cuban deal is still in the works, CleBer will begin selling its $10,000 tractor to U.S. farms.
"This will allow us to generate revenue while we wait on the building to get underway in Cuba," Clemmons explained.
And with that, even better, more jobs are being produced in Alabama. The tractors are being manufactured at Liberty Steel Fabrication Inc. in Fyffe, in DeKalb County. The plant is estimated to create 15-30 jobs.
"We selected Liberty as much for their approach to business as their expertise in fabrication and assembly work," Clemmons said. "Liberty represents a best-in-class approach to manufacturing that will enable us to rapidly bring to market our products and implement our global strategy."
The Oggun tractor is named after a powerful warrior and spirit of metal, and has a simple design.
"That means you can fix and maintain it in the field with nothing more than a wrench," he added.
The Oggun’s zero-turn means a farmer can plant 11 percent more than the industry average.
The tractor has a 19-inch ground clearance and it can have a belly and rear attachment at the same time, meaning a farmer can lay a row out and plant it all in one pass.
"The most important thing is that the tractor includes parts that are all standard, off-the-shelf parts to help [Cubans] in the evolution of farming," Clemmons said.
Clemmons said he and Berenthal believe they can sell hundreds of tractors a year to Cuban farmers. And later, they believe they will also be able to export Oggun tractors to other Latin America countries that have low or no tariffs on Cuban products.
For the first few years, Clemmons said the company would export components from the United States for assembly in Cuba. Eventually, they plan to begin manufacturing many of the parts themselves in Cuba. In time, the company plans to grow big enough to employ 300 people.
Success in Cuba will provide proof that products can be provided to consumers on the lower end of the economic spectrum with profit for everyone who contributes.
"The roots of our creating this model clearly lie in Cuba," Clemmons said. "But its growth transcends culture and politics. The CleBer business model is designed for implementation in countries across the globe where the small farmer has been ignored."
Clemmons said agriculture in the United States is such a success story that most do not realize the small family farm has all but disappeared.
"Our goal is to reverse that problem and use our success in the United States to build the systems to lift the rest of the world to the next level of local food production," he added.
The tractor made its debut at DeKalb Farmers Co-op in July. People came by to see it, asked questions and drove it.
"We will sell the implements such as the plow, cultivator, planter, blade bucket and sled here at the store," Nolen said.
"It’s a very simple tractor," McGriff added. "So simple, you can buy parts at the tractor store."