New Tractor For The Small Grower On The Horizon
Entrepreneurs Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal are pushing their new business venture, Cleber, LLC, which will be producing low-tech tractors for small farmers in the not-so-distant-future.
What makes this business even more interesting is last winter U.S.-based Cleber got permission to build a tractor-manufacturing facility in Cuba’s ZED Mariel duty-free zone. The tractor, called Oggun, is based on an open-source manufacturing model that uses off-the-shelf components.
The base structure of the unit, called the Universal Power Platform, is centered around existing engine technology, hydraulic pumps, motors, and hubs, according to a data sheet about the machine. Modeled after the Allis-Chalmers Model G that hit the market in 1949, Clemmons says the tractor is designed for single-row production. The unit will retail for about $10,000.
Both former IBM employees, Clemmons and Berenthal were known in the retail sector “because we were the guys they sent around the world to fix problems, so this made it easier for us to start an international business,” Clemmons explains.
The problem to be fixed in this situation is that Cuba imports 80% of its food. “Building a simple tractor for small growers would have a great impact on the vitality of food production and rural life,” Clemmons says. “If we are going to do this, however, first we have to understand why the 40-acre farmer in America can’t afford a new tractor.”
The short answer is, the vertical nature of the equipment manufacturing business, which patents as much as possible, offers very few shared components across equipment, and has unique parts by model. This has pushed the small farmer out of the equation.
The Cuban Angle
Why manufacture in Cuba? According to Clemmons, Berenthal, who is Cuban, always said they would eventually do business in the country. So when President Obama said diplomatic relations were to be re-established, Berenthal wanted to make his move.
For the Cuban deal to go through, Clemmons says they had to further sweeten the pot. That is why he says virtually everything that has to do with revenue after the tractor comes off the assembly line will be pushed back into the Cuban economy. After the tractor rolls out the door from the plant in Cuba, the idea is for the local Cuban farmer to seek a local manufacturer for any part that may wear out.
“The key is to design a tractor that can be fixed in the field or the shop and the components must be all off-the-shelf, and there must be multiple suppliers for each component,” Clemmons explains. “Now we have changed the whole business model and the logistics channel. It is much easier; you can go on the Internet and search for equivalent parts.”
Clemmons says their role is to establish the manufacturing facility and have good engineers to ensure design quality and product quality.
Fabrication Done In Alabama
Not wanting to waste any time, however, the duo is currently employing the services of Alabama-based Liberty Steel LLC, who is doing all of the fabrication for the equipment because it will take them nearly a year to get the facility up and running in Cuba. Growers should be able to check out the equipment online sometime in July, with orders being accepted for delivery after Sept. 1, 2016.
The machine also has the potential to be more than a tractor, Clemmons explains. They have a provisional patent on the base model, the engine, and all the hydraulics, for a module that a local economy can turn into a wide range of farm equipment. The unit can be customized to attach components that can convert the base module into an excavator or a skidsteer, as well. “It will be simple and less expensive,” he says.
They will license the patent for free to anyone under the condition that anything they patent also becomes a free license. “Patents are what increase the price of products,” Clemmons says, and that is definitely something he wants to avoid.