Over the years, I have had the privilege to interview people who were retiring, having spent 30, 40, 50 and even 60 years in service to their local equipment dealership.
A common question I had for them was always, “What changes have you seen during your time working with the dealership?” The answers of course varied very little.
Considering their ag equipment career, people will comment on how the equipment has become bigger, how the number of brands has become smaller and how much more efficient each tool is today.
More often than not, though, people will talk about how far machine technology has come. And they’ve noted that those electronic advancements have ushered in opportunities as well as issues to overcome.
Curt Blades, senior vice president, Agricultural Services of Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), tells me technology has been driving the market for new ag equipment and will continue to do so in the near future.
“In reality,” he notes, “manufacturers have been improving electronics in self-propelled machinery for decades. It’s just that now, and in the future, the improvements are coming from ones and zeros. That is, advancements in technology.”
Blades also mentions there’s a trend to merge equipment capabilities with agronomics.
“It’s truly fascinating,” he says. “Not too long ago a producer would go to an agronomist to get recommendations on seed, fertilizer, crop protection and so forth, while the equipment dealer just sold hard iron without consideration of one to the other.
“Now we have a merging of those two disciplines, since they are very much interdependent, and we can see that’s there’s so much to gain. There’s a great deal of potential efficiencies through the collection of data and machine management based on that data.”
According to Blades, in the past a producer might buy a couple of pieces of equipment every few years and not really interact with the dealership on a daily or even weekly basis.
That’s changing now. With this technology, along with the agronomics, equipment dealers find that that they can build relationships with farmers, being there for them on a day-to-day basis.
“Dealer acceptance, promotion and support varies with each dealer,” he says. “There are many out there who have embraced the merging of equipment and agronomics and have found many benefits to being true partners with their farmer customers.
“And while this is not universal across all equipment dealerships, equipment brands have been moving in this direction for some time.”
Driverless, or autonomous, tractors are on the horizon as well.
“We’ve been working towards autonomy for years,” Blades says. “Again, it’s all about finding efficiency. The reasons for equipment getting bigger all those years was to make the most of time in the field as well as reducing labor. Autonomous equipment helps us in both those areas.”
As for the coming year, Blades says equipment manufacturers are finding it difficult to predict demand for their products, in large part because of the great amount of uncertainty in the ag marketplace right now.
“The word ‘uncertainty’ is absolutely appropriate for the rest of 2019 and all of 2020,” he says. “There are just so many things in play that are out of our control. Of course, weather is always a factor. Dealing with the weather this year has been a struggle for producers. Then there are other factors, including the new trade policies.”
If you’re in the market for pre-owned machinery, availability has become a little tighter for good, late-model equipment.
“A few years ago, we were swimming in used equipment,” recalls Blades. “But supply and demand have found a realistic balance since then, with supply being able to satisfy the demand.”
Technology also has an effect on used availability.
“New technology will push people to buy new equipment, or at least newer equipment,” Blades says.
Of course, I was interested in how steel tariffs and other increasing manufacturing costs such as labor and transportation might play out with new equipment pricing in the coming year.
“Tariffs or not, machinery just is getting more costly to make,” says Blades. “However, manufacturers fully understand what’s happening in the farm community and the pressures farmers are under. They’re finding ways to control costs, perhaps even cutting already very narrow margins, so that producers can invest in and take advantage of new more efficient equipment.”
Consequently, you should be on the lookout for new more aggressive incentives and special financing in the coming months, as equipment manufacturers and dealers become even more competitive for your business.
But then, that trend always has been a part of the machinery business.
Michael Gustafson has written for and about farm equipment companies, their products and dealerships for more than 40 years, including 25 years with John Deere. He lives on a small acreage in Dennison, Ill.