Selling tile plows and complementary precision farming technology has proven to be a lucrative niche market for some dealers, whether selling a complete system or retrofitting an older unit with newer components.
In the realm of precision farming equipment, a slowdown in sales always seems to spur a search for alternative niche markets. One such market that some dealers have been pursuing is tile plowing — selling new plows along with retrofitting older equipment with new precision components.
Precision specialist, Chris Hoffmann of P&C Ag Solutions, a precision dealership in Reese, Mich., has been exploring this market for the better part of 5 years with solid results.
“We became a Soil-Max dealer around 2011, so we are trying to get guys into a Gold Digger tile plow, but I’m not afraid to pursue other avenues,” says Hoffmann. “For instance, we have some Big Buds with tile plows on them that I set up with auto-steer and GPS controlled tiling. I also set up a 1950s bulldozer with GPS tiling as well, so there are a lot of possible applications for the equipment.”
Although Hoffmann has been pleased with the sales of the tile plows themselves, he sees a lot of opportunity in his area for precision upgrades and Ag Leader Intellislope controls. As big iron sales contract, many of his customers would still like access to the newest precision technology without having to buy all new equipment.
“We have a lot to offer customers with older equipment,” says Hoffmann. “Instead of buying a brand new Bron for $800,000, I can set up a piece of equipment someone already has for about $60,000 and they’re good to go.”
Sales have varied from year to year, however, Hoffmann thinks the prospects for future sales are strong in his area.
“Last year, I probably set up 8 plows, about 15 the year before and close to 20 the year before that,” says Hoffmann. “Since commodity prices have tightened, sales fell off a bit, but I don’t think we’re looking at market saturation. In Michigan, north of the halfway point of the state is mostly just woods, and a lot of those guys are running on 1998 technology. It’s a slower adoption rate the further north we go, but I am starting to sell things all the way up to the Mackinaw Bridge.”
When it comes to getting the word out, Hoffmann says the most success they’ve had is reaching directly out to contractors.
“A lot of the contractors know each other so word of mouth has been huge for us,” he says. “We also advertise and at our precision field days, we actually get quite a few customers interested in GPS tiling equipment too. We always run a tile plow at the event and let customers sit in the tractor to see how it all works.”
Breaking into the Market
Part of the reason dealers have had success selling tile plows and GPS retrofits has been that local farmers seem to have a desire to own their own equipment rather than hiring the work out — especially for smaller jobs.
Matt Culler, sales and service manager with Ag Info Tech in Mount Vernon, Ohio, has seen similar success since the precision dealership started bringing tile plow equipment to their customers in 2010.
“We started really slowly when Trimble released their water management solution for tile plows,” says Culler. “Then we got a little deeper 3 years ago when we became Soil-Max dealers and started selling tile plows in addition to the controls. So we have both Trimble and Ag Leader options.”
Getting into the business slowly made a big difference, Culler says. Since they hadn’t previously sold or handled tile plows or the related precision gear, they needed some time to familiarize themselves with the operation and troubleshooting that came with the equipment.
“At first, we weren’t selling just for the sake of sales, we wanted to get familiar with the systems,” says Culler. “There are still a lot of guys using laser systems instead of GPS so that is what they are comfortable with. One of the biggest struggles has been demonstrating that GPS is as accurate and trustworthy as the other solutions. To be able to be confident in that, we had to spend some time ourselves getting really familiar with the equipment.”
Ag Info Tech now has about 10% of their total sales in tiling related equipment. Culler says part of the reason they’ve seen success with selling the tile plows and GPS retrofits has been that local farmers seem to have a desire to own their own equipment rather than hiring the work out — especially for smaller jobs.
“I see opportunity in our area because there are still a lot of guys with big enough farms to justify owning their own plow,” says Culler. “Also, a lot of them have smaller jobs they want to get done, but it’s hard for them to get a custom guy to come out for anything less than 100 acres because it’s so expensive to move their machines.
“Plus, the custom tile plowers in our area seem to always be a year out in terms of scheduling because they have so much business. There is still a lot of land out here to be tiled.”
While Culler projects that the market for tile plow equipment in his area is still very strong, he’s already begun to branch out into tile plow related services as well.
“It took some time, but we’ve started doing some survey and design work as well,” says Culler. “Both Trimble and Ag Leader have a software program that allow us to get a topographical map of the field. After we get this, we can go in and build a full design to see where the tile lines should sit. Then we load that into the display so the farmer knows exactly what his layout will look like and he can just follow that pattern to do his install.”