The U.S. is not its biggest customer. Europe is by far, but the U.S. accounts for almost 14 percent of the total. However, the U.S. recorded the sharpest increase through the first six months of 2001, 26.5 percent, despite bleak agricultural income.

"We had a good year in 2001 and are cautiously optimistic for this year," said Roberto Narducci, general manager of Agrex, which markets seeders and fertilizer spreaders, mostly in the South and Southeast. It has a distribution center in Dublin, Ga., among other places.

However, he admitted at the huge International Exhibition of Agricultural Machinery Industries (EIMA), that orders had slowed during the last half of 2001 for 2002 because of low commodity prices and uncertainty of the U.S. federal farm program.

More than 114,000 people, mostly Italians, attended the EIMA shows in Bologna, Italy, which featured more than 1,700 exhibitors in about two dozen large exhibit halls. It is one of the largest farm shows in the world and is organized by the Italian Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers Association (UNACOMA). There were 399 foreign exhibitors and 8,200 foreign visitors.

Exports were solely responsible for an overall rise in production of Italian farm equipment. Exports are expected to account for more than half of the industry’s $5.72 billion in production.

Boost U.S. presence

Several companies boosted their U.S. presence, setting up manufacturing and parts centers in the U.S. One of those Maschio, manufacturer of tillage equipment and Gaspardo vacuum precision planters, which has partnered with Tonutti, an Italian manufacturer of hay rakes, to set up a parts and manufacturing center in Memphis, Tenn.

"This is a joint venture that will allow us to better compete in the U.S. market where warranty and service are very important," said Carlo Tonutti, president of Tonutti Farm Machinery.

While the Italian manufacturers are optimistic about the export market, they are expected to get a boost domestically where sales were flat in 2001.

The government will be offering incentives for producers to replace tractors and stimulate the machinery manufacturing. Economists are expecting a 3 percent growth rate in tractor sales from that alone and a 1.5 percent growth in other ag machinery.

There are 1.5 million "obsolete" tractors, which could be replaced by this "incentive program."

While the manufacturers are welcoming this economic boost, there is concern about what to do with these tractors, most of which will not meet Italy’s "rigid" safety standards.