Howard Australia Pty Ltd is based at Seven Hills in New South Wales and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Power Farming Wholesale Limited, a fully independent and privately owned New Zealand headquartered company. Among Australia’s farming communities, ‘Howard’ is an iconic brand and Howard Australia Pty Ltd is a direct descendant of the original company that started in Australia in 1923 when the first rotary hoe (Rotavator) was produced. Since then, Howard has established itself as one of the most respected and successful short-line providers in the country and has, as part of its portfolio, an enviable line-up of top quality products covering a diversity of farming applications. Supported by a team of dedicated and experienced industry professionals and an extensive nationwide dealer network, the name ‘Howard’ has become synonymous with quality, service, reliability and longevity.
A.C. (Cliff) Howard, invented the principle of rotary cultivation – or ROTAVATION as it is now called – in 1912 when he was a youngster on his father’s property at Gilgandra in New South Wales, Australia.
He rigged up a test drive from the steam tractor to the shaft of a one-way disc cultivator.
As the book “A Growing Concern” described it: “The discs were notched to grip the ground, the transmission was a gallimaufry of chains, sprockets and cogs pillaged from derelict – and not so derelict – machinery around the farm. Altogether a strange tool – but it worked!”
Cliff Howard subsequently became apprenticed to the engineering firm of McLeerys Ltd, at Moss Vale in New South Wales – some eighty miles from Sydney and undertook an engineering course by correspondence.
During his apprenticeship, he and his close friend, Everard McLeery, spent every spare moment designing and modifying Howard’s conception of rotary tillage equipment and, by the time of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Howard and McLeery had almost reached the point of producing the first combined cultivating and seeding machines.
Both volunteered for the Air Force, but while awaiting their final call-up, Cliff was injured in a motor cycle accident which ruled out his ambition to fly. As a compromise, Cliff went to England to work in munitions and eventually joined the experimental section of Armstrong Siddeley where he worked on the prototype of the Napier “Lion” aero plane engine. Sadly, Everard McLeery was shot down behind the German lines a few weeks before the Armistice in 1918.
After the war, Cliff Howard could arouse little interest in his “rotating hoe blade” theories among English agriculturists. He therefore returned to Moss Vale in 1919 where he found the war years had not been kind to the old firm and, in fact, a disastrous fire had destroyed the premises shortly before his return.
Cliff therefore went back to Gilgandra, rebuilt the farm blacksmith shop and, with his younger brother Albert, finished the designs and finally built the first ROTAVATOR. It was mounted on the back of the old steam engine that had first inspired Cliff Howard as a boy. The rotor was made from iron bark timber, milled on the farm and the blades were made from old sulky springs; but the design was right and the first test was successful. So successful in fact, that Howard was able to form a syndicate among his friends to finance the new venture.
With this backing, he returned to Moss Vale and worked day and night to rehabilitate his old firm and further develop his cultivation theories.
A 60h.p. Buda engine was imported from America and the first full-sized Tractor / ROTAVATOR was subsequently produced; largely for wheat farmers. It was 15 feet wide – made in five sections of three feet and had three rotor speeds and six travel speeds. On test, it cultivated three and a half acres per hour.
The first machine was completed in 1922 and, in that year, Austral Auto Cultivators Ltd. was formed to produce and market further ROTAVATORS.
The application of rotary tillage slowly spread to other avenues of farm production. Apart from wheat farmers, orchardists, vignerons, vegetable and cane growers soon came to see the value of the principle of Howard’s machines. At the same time, production at Moss Vale grew gradually and various types of ROTAVATORS were bein g produced for Fordson and other tractors.
By 1926, production had outgrown the small Moss Vale premises and a site was secured at Northmead, near Parramatta, also in New South Wales.
The company produced the whole unit, including the engine, and it was at this time too, that the first complete tractor unit was produced – the ubiquitous Howard D.H. 22.
At Northmead, ROTAVATORS were adapted for all types of tractors and three hand-controlled models were also introduced.
As well as an increasing demand from the local market, export orders began to flow in and it was found necessary to make a large increase in the capital of the company.
As it was difficult to service the export market from Northmead, an agreement was entered into with an English manufacturer, and, in 1928, they became responsible for making Howard machines for countries other than Australia and New Zealand.
The English company was unable to make the most of its ten year licence. Therefore, in 1938, Cliff Howard, along with his brother Albert, went to England to form a new company and put the ROTAVATOR on the world map.
It was a move he was not unhappy to make, for there were differences at Northmead which he could not resolve as he held limited voting power in the expanded company.
The English company was formed in 1938 and a long association between A.C. Howard and Captain E.N. Griffith began. E.N. Griffith had been farming in Essex for many years and was the first man in England to realise the possibilities of the Australian inventor’s principle of soil tillage.
Once again, war intervened in Howard’s progress and, although the famous “Gem” had already been produced, the war years were greatly occupied with munitions production.
With the end of World War Two, the company began an intensive marketing campaign throughout the world and it was typical of Cliff Howard that he himself attacked the toughest market – the United States of America.
In the belief that a successful manufacturer must take his product to the market, he traveled the USA in a station sedan with a “Gem” in the back. His efforts enabled the company to make the remarkable claim of being the first British company to sell agricultural machines to the USA for fifty years.
With representatives constantly carrying the principle of ROTAVATION to most countries of the world, the company went from strength to strength and branch factories opened in the United States of America, South Africa, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.
In 1959, A.C. Howard had, perhaps, his finest hour, when he returned to his home country and bought back the company he had founded at Northmead so many years before and integrated it into the world-wide group.
He was awarded the C.B.E. by the Queen a few months before his death in 1971
In 1985, the Howard Group of companies, with the exception of Howard Australia and Howard New Zealand, was acquired by the Danish group, Thrige Agro. A New Zealand investment company, Tullamore Holdings Limited, owned and operated the two Australasian companies until 1997 at which point they too became part of Thrige Agro.
This ownership continued until late in 2004 when the New Zealand based Power Farming Wholesale Limited purchased both Howard Australia and Howard New Zealand from Thrige Agro.
Power Farming Wholesale Limited is fully independent and privately owned, has a three-generation history of serving the New Zealand and Australian tractor and machinery markets and operates as four main trading entities:
- Power Farming Wholesale Limited - wholesale distribution in New Zealand.
- Power Farming New Zealand Limited - retail distribution in New Zealand.
- PFG Australia Pty Limited - wholesale distribution of all the company’s tractor and equipment brands in Australia.
- Howard Australia Pty Limited - a Sydney based supplier of cultivation equipment, mowers, front-end loaders, seeders and feeder/spreader equipment.
Collectively, these four trading operations generate an annual turnover of approximately $250 million and employ around 400 people.
The various markets are served from strategically located distribution hubs in Morrinsville, Christchurch, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Mildura.
Power Farming Wholesale Limited also owns a substantial part of its New Zealand dealer network, together with a specialised engineering operation based in Palmerston North, New Zealand.