The ability to relate to farm customers, understand their concerns, patiently solve their problems and even share in their frustrations are traits that define a successful precision farming dealer.
Riding along with Jason Pennycook, precision farming specialist with Johnson Tractor, for this installment of our Day in the Cab series, it didn’t take long to realize he embodies the qualities and character of someone born to work in agriculture.
“To do this job, you had better love farming or it will just drive you insane,” he says. “Luckily, I have a horrible addiction to farming.”
Jason started at Johnson Tractor’s Janesville, Wis., store in 2002 working in the service department, before transitioning full-time to precision farming in 2009. He is the senior specialist for the 4-store Case IH dealership group, which employs another full-time specialist at its Rochelle, Ill., store and part-time specialists at their locations in Juda, Wis., and Amboy, Ill.
With experience troubleshooting mechanical and electronic problems on farm equipment, Jason often leverages his diverse skillset to provide customers with comprehensive service. But his third tier of experience as a farmer keeps him grounded and in touch with customers’ needs, no matter how mundane.
Pennycook spends most of his time working out of Johnson Tractor’s Janesville, Wis., store, and is a source of input for co-owner Leo Johnson (left) on what the dealership’s precision customers are looking for and need.
Jason farms about 160 acres and custom harvests and plants another 800-1,200 with his twin brother, Adam, who is a salesperson at Johnson Tractor’s Juda, Wis., location. Jason cuts an imposing figure accented by a wiry beard (peppered with a few more gray hairs since becoming a precision specialist), but it belies his conversational style with customers.
Despite winding down a whirlwind harvest, seldom was Jason without a smile during the course of our 10 hours and 180 miles together, whether solving a GPS mystery, scaling the side of a grain bin or anxiously downloading precious data from a yield monitor.
Leverage mechanical and technological experience to provide customers with more comprehensive service.
Patience with gradual adopters of precision can payoff with long-term sales opportunities.
Knowing hardware inside and out can minimize time spent on service calls and build customer confidence.
5:45 a.m. I slap my hand across my alarm clock, slide out of bed and head downstairs, consciously trying to make as little noise as possible. The silence is short lived when I step on a squeaking dog toy.
6:17 a.m. Two cups of coffee and another thermos full for the road and I’m out the door. I’ll rendezvous with our assistant editor Jaime Elftman at Johnson Tractor’s Janesville location, which is an easy 70-mile drive, but dense fog the entire way makes for a slower ride.
7:27 a.m. I arrive at the dealership, which is dramatically different than when I had last visited 2 years ago. The store recently completed an extensive remodel that included an expanded shop and new expo center. Jaime has already arrived and we head inside. It’s a quiet start to the day, but employees and a couple customers are starting to populate the showroom floor.
Johnson Tractor recently undertook a big remodeling project that included an expanded shop and new expo center.
7:32 a.m. Jason greets us and we congregate near his work station, which is easy to find, even if he typically isn’t there this time of year. He jokes that having the words “Precision Farming” on the curved wall above his area lets everyone know that he’s not there. His desk is drowning in inventory and service projects — with a half-dozen boxes of different sizes covering every corner. One employee commenting on the clutter says, “It looks like fall.”
7:48 a.m. After checking a few emails and getting organized for the day, we head back to the parts department to pick up supplies needed for the day’s service calls, including a two-way radio from a customer’s traded-in tractor and new antenna for an RTK tower that had been struck by lightning.
In the service bay, we run into co-owner Leo Johnson who asks Jason and I for our opinion on whether it’s still constructive to order new planters equipped with row markers. While we agree that markers probably aren’t necessary for the precision-savvy operator, Jason says that it’s still probably an investment worth making. “I’d love to say we don’t have to do markers, but I can see the situation where there’s that one planter without them, and we’ll have someone interested who is running a different color tractor, and he doesn’t have RTK or any guidance at all who will want them.”
Spending several years in the shop at Johnson Tractor, precision specialist Jason Pennycook has a valuable blend of technical and mechanical skills. In this video, he explains how this complementary skillset helps build confidence with customers and add value to service calls.
8:05 a.m. Jason flips down the tailgate of his service truck and the inside is stocked with components. Mounted above the tire wells on each side are vertical shelves filled with socket wrench attachments. There is also a toolbox in the center of the truck bed, also packed with parts and tools. Jason admits that he travels with more miscellaneous stuff than the average precision specialist, a byproduct of his time working in the shop at Johnson Tractor. “Most of our precision guys have a small bag of tools, but I spent 5 years in the shop before transitioning full-time to precision,” he says. “A lot of my customers know that, so it’s best for me to have those additional tools because I can also fix a combine or planter.”
8:15 a.m. We’re en route to our first stop in Rochelle, Ill., about an hour away, to replace the antenna and power source on an RTK tower on Dave Breitweiser’s farm. Dave is one of 4 customers who own their own base station, and Johnson Tractor also operates its own RTK network out of the store in Amboy, Ill. Jason had been to the farm about 2 weeks ago to troubleshoot the problem, which he suspects was a lightning strike that disabled the repeater.
“Dave had about 800 acres left to harvest when the tower went down, and we were able to get his base station working again, but his repeater needed to be replaced, so he had to switch to WAAS,” Jason says.
In this video, Pennycook explains his process for diagnosing and fixing RTK issues, how these services are billed out and RTK adoption by the dealership’s customers.
8:40 a.m. Jason gets a call from Karl Faivre, the precision specialist at the dealership’s Rochelle store, who is going to meet us and assist with the antenna replacement. It’s the first time that Jason’s phone has rang all morning, which is unusual for this time of year. Normally, he gets 50-100 a day, starting at about 6 a.m. in the thick of harvest, but the foggy, damp start to the day is providing a respite.
We joke that the weather is appropriate a day ahead of Halloween, clearly one of Jason’s favorite holidays. He notes that he and his brothers used to wield chainsaws at a local haunted house. “It was more fun than you could possibly imagine,” he says. “I think I should still do that. It would be a great stress reliever this time of year.”
9:17 a.m. We arrive at Dave’s farm and Karl is waiting for us. He’s been with Johnson Tractor about 2 years, but makes it clear he won’t be the one doing the climbing this morning. “Jason is the daredevil, which is why he’s the person who always handles the tower maintenance and service,” Karl says.
Known as the “daredevil” of the precision specialists at the dealership, Pennycook is often called on to climb grain bins to troubleshoot and fix RTK tower problems. In this case, he’s on his way up to replace an antenna that was struck by lightning.
Jason ties one end of twine to his belt and makes the 100-foot, open-air climb. Karl attaches a small bag of tools to the other end of twine and Jason hauls it up. The next step is to send the new antenna up, but the twine gets tangled on the way back down and Jason has to climb back down to reattach a new piece. It’s a minor hassle, but nevertheless adds a little more exertion for Jason.
9:48 a.m. With the new antenna in place, Jason and Karl check the repeater power and everything is up and running. The job will be billed out for the time it took Jason to troubleshoot the problem, and then the cost for replacement parts. “It’s not that bad of an expense, considering it’s the first issue that’s come up since we installed the system about 7 years ago,” Jason says. “Most customers have the base stations insured as part of their policy, so that will typically cover the cost of repairs.”
10:02 a.m. We’re about to part ways with Karl, but his service truck won’t start, so Jason gives him a jump. “With all the chargers and harnesses we have hooked up in our vehicles, this happens from time to time,” Jason says. He has an iPad mounted on the center console in his service truck and various other devices plugged into USB or charging ports on a regular basis, essentially giving him a mobile office.
This is almost essential, given that the odometer on Jason’s 2013 Ford F150 is already pushing 80,000 miles. “Some days, I’ll put on 50 miles, and others it might be a few hundred. It comes down to when I tell a customer ‘I’m on my way,’ it means I’m in the same state.”
10:25 a.m. Before heading to our next appointment, we pop into the Rochelle store so Jason can see if there are any parts that need to be transported back to Janesville. He picks up a skid shield for the cutter bar on a Case IH 1020 corn head for a customer and somehow finds room for it in his truck.
Installing a two-way radio is the type of job Pennycook will take on for customers when he can. This service can add another layer of confidence for them that he can be counted on for whatever they need done.
10:39 a.m. We’re back on the road, headed to Suncreek Farms near Woodstock, Ill., to meet Tom Hanson. He’s been having an issue with his OmniStar signal and Jason is also going to install the two-way radio that was left on his traded-in tractor.
It’s about an hour ride, and thus far, the morning has flown by without incident. The only potential problem brewing is how long Jason’s 20 oz. bottle of Mountain Dew he’s been sipping most of the morning will hold out. “This is usually breakfast and I know it’s going to be a bad morning if the soda machine at the dealership isn’t working.”
11:23 a.m. With the afternoon schedule still flexible, Jason gives Bruce Cosman a call to see if he will be available to troubleshoot a combine monitor problem and extract yield data. We get the green light from Bruce and Jason conservatively estimates we’ll get to his farm about 2 p.m. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know how my days can go, so I didn’t want to promise a time I know I won’t meet.”
In this video, Jason Pennycook shares his approach to keeping customers informed and educated on the value of adding precision components to their insurance policies.
11:47 a.m. We arrive at Suncreek Farms and are greeted by Tom. Jason notes that these types of service calls have the potential to be lengthy and sometimes frustrating visits. “It’s a definite unknown because there’s not always a quick fix or easy way to identify a GPS problem. It can be a series of steps to pinpoint a solution.”
The morning fog is finally starting to lift, but it’s still a crisp 39 degrees out. Jason climbs into the cab of Tom’s Case IH 500 Steiger and starts troubleshooting why his Pro 700 display isn’t receiving the OmniStar signal. During the diagnosis, Tom asks questions about the varying levels of GPS correction, which Jason happily answers in detail.
12:10 p.m. In this case, Jason identifies the problem in a matter of minutes. The issue ends up being a lag in the subscription renewal for the OmniStar signal. Jason calls to confirm the annual renewal, which had been made earlier in the month, but had not been activated. “For some reason, it didn’t renew, so when the expiration date came, the signal just shut off,” he says. “It was just a matter of calling the company to verify the renewal and having them resend the signal, which was a lot easier fix than I was expecting.”
Check Out Day In the Cab Videos!
Get an intimate and informative look at a day in the life on the job with Jason Pennycook, precision farming specialist with Johnson Tractor, through exclusive videos filmed during Precision Farming Dealer’s Day in the Cab. Click here.
12:37 p.m. Satisfied with the solution, Tom has us follow him to his Case IH 340 Magnum tractor about 2 miles away to install the two-way radio he’d left in the cab of his traded-in tractor. Jason expects this to be a quick job as it’s something he’s done a number of times. He is also asked if he’d have time to install a wireless Voyager camera system that Tom needs connected in the tractor cab to monitor grain cart fill levels.
“If we were pressed for time, it’s probably something I’d have one of the service techs come out and handle, but when I have the time, I don’t mind taking care of anything extra the customer wants done. It keeps those long-term relationships intact.”
Pennycook successfully transfers the yield data of customer Bruce Cosman who was having trouble with the display rebooting. The two share a few stress-relieving laughs and Pennycook reformats the data card and also provides Cosman with a spare one.
1:15 p.m. Jason gets the camera connected in no time, finding that the cabling in the cab was as it should be. However, he runs into a snag installing the two-way radio when the plastic factory cap on the exterior antenna loosens and slips under the roof of the cab. After a few attempts at fishing the cap out, Jason realizes he’ll need to unbolt the roof of the cab to retrieve the part. “That’s why I try not to assume a job will be easy, because simple jobs sometimes run into snags.”
Jason’s arsenal of tools comes in handy, as he grabs a power drill and loosens each bolt on top of the cab to recover the antenna cap. He then pops in the cab to install the radio and chats with Tom’s daughter, Katie, who will be taking the tractor and grain cart into the field this afternoon.
Pennycook admits that he travels with more miscellaneous tools than the average precision specialist, a byproduct of his time working in the shop at Johnson Tractor. “A lot of my customers know that, so it’s best for me to have those additional tools because I can also fix a combine or planter if needed,” he says.
1:23 p.m. Blue skies have taken hold as Jason packs up his supplies and we depart for our next stop. On the way, we opt for lunch at a Wendy’s we pass.
We’re in good enough shape for the day to dine in. Jason jokes that most of the smaller towns he passes through seem to only have a Subway, so he’s thrilled to have an alternative. Jason has a spicy chicken sandwich, fries and a needed Mountain Dew refill. Jaime has a burger and fries and I go with a bacon cheeseburger and 6-piece spicy chicken nuggets.
During lunch I ask Jason about the origins of his nickname “Cooker,” I’d heard Karl use earlier in the day. He tells me that Johnson Tractor’s Janesville location has 4 employees with the first name Jason, so each has a nickname to make sure customers are put in touch with the right one when they call.
Jason Pennycook discusses some of the common problems he encounters with data during harvest and how he works with customers to solve them.
1:46 p.m. Back on the road, Jason gets a call from Tom Hanson to let him know that Katie is happy with the camera and radio installation. Jason says the Hanson’s have steadily increased their investment in precision technology, after initial reluctance. “Five years ago, I asked Tom if he wanted to get into a guidance system and he told me that if he couldn’t steer the wheel, he didn’t need to be farming anymore,” Jason says. “So they’ve come a long way.”
2:17 p.m. We arrive at Bruce Cosman’s farm near Marengo, Ill., remarkably close to the estimated time Jason told him we’d be there. Bruce is finished harvesting and we find his combine parked in the shed. He’s been having trouble with the yield monitor display locking up. Jason’s initial concern is that yield data could be damaged or lost, so he pulls the data card and begins downloading it to his laptop.
Pennycook has a conversational, casual style with customers, which comes from having a background as a farmer. Here he talks with customer Tom Hanson about the problem he’d been having with his OmniStar signal.
2:32 p.m. After what probably seemed like an eternity to Bruce and Jason, the data is successfully transferred and accessible. The two share a few stress-relieving laughs and Jason reformats the data card and also provides Bruce with a spare one. “He had several years of yield data on the card, so that may have been causing it to run slower or reboot,” Jason says.
3:02 p.m. Jason gets a call from Brad Benash, one of the operators who assists Jason and his twin brother, Adam, on their farming operation. He is having trouble switching farm fields on the combine’s display. Jason calmly and confidently walks Brad through a series of button pushes that navigate him to the right screen.
“That was a prime example of a typical phone call this time of year,” Jason says. “It’s a lot of basic setup stuff like switching fields or setting up boundaries. I’ve gotten pretty good at memorizing button pushes because we figured on a typical day, we could see as many as 17 or 18 different displays, and that’s just what we sell at the dealership.”
3:23 p.m. We wrap up with Bruce and are headed back to Janesville, which is about an hour away. Jason gets a call from his wife to check in and she’s happy to hear that he’ll be home at a reasonable hour tonight.
4:19 p.m. It’s relatively quiet at the Janesville store, but a few more boxes have populated Jason’s desk since we left this morning. He sits down and momentarily puts his feet up to rest.
Jason Pennycook explains some of Johnson Tractor’s data management service inclusions, the flexibility they offer customers to identify their level of need and sales growth potential for the dealership.
Before he leaves for the night, Jason wants to review his work orders for the month to make sure they are processed. Jaime and I thank him for the adventure and part ways. While it wasn’t an overly stressful day in the cab, it certainly was a successful one.