Carlisle-headquartered Carr’s Group has issued a profit warning with a challenging agricultural market and delays to orders for its engineering arm set to take their toll.

In a trading update, the company said challenging conditions for agriculture in its key markets of the UK and United States, along with continued mild weather, meant demand for its feeds and supplements were dramatically down.

A delay in orders from Japan and China for robotics equipment from Carr’s Group’s business in Germany will also leave a big hole in its profits, said Carr’s Group chief executive Tim Davies.

The company had been hoping the orders would offset a slow start to the year for its engineering division.

They have instead been pushed back due to a delay in the work programme at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan and are not related to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Davies said.

The double blow now means the Carr’s group board now expects its performance in the current financial year to be significantly below its expectations - having earlier this year anticipated it would be moderately behind.

Carr’s Group’s agricultural operations are best known for Carrs Billington, while its engineering division – responsible for a third of the group’s operating profit – includes Bendalls Engineering in Carlisle and NW Total in Barrow, along with Wälischmiller Engineering based in Germany and NuVision Engineering in the United States.

The company said it is in the process of identifying cost efficiencies across its businesses, with a focus on continuing to integrate its businesses, which include a number of relatively recent acquisitions.

Mr Davies said: “It’s disappointing because we had a record year last year and bucked the trend.

“We’ve been highlighting the challenges in agriculture for the past 18 months, with the issues around farm payments, reduced farm incomes, Brexit and people holding back on investing because of it.

“Brexit uncertainty will go on for a while yet.

“The mild winter means farmers have the option not to feed as heavily, which is obviously having an impact.

“You can’t really plan for what’s going to happen in agriculture at the moment.”

Mr Davies said the group’s engineering division would return to growth but lamented the timing of the contract delays with Asia. He added: “This will create a big hole that won’t be filled this year”.

But Mr Davies said he remained upbeat and that the profit warning would be likely to accelerate rather than curtail its acquisitions strategy.

“We have a strong business, fantastic balance sheet and great people,” he said.

“We have a good pipeline of acquisitions and, in fact, we’ll be looking at this more than ever now.

“When times are difficult there are opportunities.

“Businesses start to think whether is now the time to join up with someone else.”

The trading update comes ahead of the publication of Carr’s Group’s interim results for the 26-week period ending February 29.

They will be announced on April 15.

Shares in the company fell by 35 per cent following the publication of the trading update early yesterday morning, but slowly started up pick up during the day.