Chaos is common during spring planting, and precision farming specialists are tasked with responding to technology emergencies, while also creating valuable in-season touch points with customers.
Innovation and creativity can go a long way in maintaining your sanity during peak service seasons, lessons learned during my latest day-long adventure with Devyn Van Camp, Integrated Solutions consultant with Riesterer & Schnell.
Experience with a variety of crops can be a valuable asset to understand and customize technology solutions for customers.
Developing comprehensive precision farming hardware leasing packages for large-scale customers can reduce annual service needs.
Taking time to test, and re-test equipment setups, prior to peak busy season, can increase customer trust and retention.
Having cut his precision teeth at 2 dealerships prior to joining the 12-store John Deere dealership serving central Wisconsin, Van Camp had developed diverse experience, not only with troubleshooting different equipment brands, but also with cropping systems and both large- and small-scale customers.
Serving tech-hungry 20,000-30,000 acre potato and specialty crop operations to considerably smaller, less advanced dairy or corn and soybean farms, Van Camp thrives on the diversity and service challenges that come with each customer.
“One of the biggest things I like about where I’m at is the variety,” he says. “In the morning, I’ll be at a corn and soybean farm, then to a vegetable customer and then a commercial potato grower. This year, I’ll have yield mapping on pickles, which is new, but I also have some dairy customers, so it’s a very diverse experience.”
This, our tenth installment of the Day in the Cab series, highlighted the ebb and flow of the stress and satisfaction that comes from keeping customers satisfied during a stressful time of year. From taking a triage approach to troubleshooting technology issues, to making time for on-farm pop-ins, Van Camp’s measured and methodical approach translated to a productive day in the cab.
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5:10 a.m. I proactively silence my alarm clock before it has a chance to make a sound. After a cup of coffee (and another thermos-full for the road), I pick up our designer and photographer, James Kolterman, and grab breakfast en route to Omro, Wis., a 90-minute drive where we’ll rendezvous with Devyn at his first customer visit of the day.
“Man, my phone won’t shut up today…”
8:27 a.m. It’s overcast, damp and cool as we arrive at Remer Farms and find Devyn, Integrated Solutions consultant Eric Redeker and Jackson Remer chatting. The objective of the visit is two-fold — Devyn is doing a transfer and systems check of the section control on the Remers’ 16-row Kinze 4900 planter — but he’s also introducing Eric, who joined the dealership in December, as Jackson’s primary precision contact going forward. “The sales team has a comfort level with me being the go-to on this farm, but it’s a 2-hour drive for me and Eric is essentially right down the road. So it’s good to make that warm-hand off for day-to-day stuff, but I’ll still be involved with some of the larger projects for the time being.”
Field testing, or in this case — yard-testing — section control on Remer Farms and other tech fixes is an essential part of customer service visits for Devyn Van Camp. “It always takes a little playing around,” he says.
9:15 a.m. Devyn and Jackson hop into the cab of the John Deere 8325R attached to the planter and first set up the RTK radio. Devyn has Jackson download the Riesterer & Schnell mobile app, which lets users monitor and control their tower IDs and frequencies with the dealership’s RTK network. “This will be his first year on our RTK network, so I want to make sure he’s comfortable with the setup and access,” Devyn says. Step-by-step, he walks through the setup with Jackson, and the two proactively talk through preferences (most-used screen) and possible upgrades (to a StarFire 2 receiver signal).
9:37 a.m. Devyn hands off the section control activation transfer to Eric, from one monitor to another, and makes sure he’s comfortable with the assignment, which he is. Meanwhile, we tag along with Devyn and Jackson to pull some sprayer data off a Deere 4830 sprayer in the shed.
9:55 a.m. With the section control transfer completed, Devyn tests the system, but the actuator belt on the hitch comes loose, requiring a quick fix. But a problem persists with the 2630 monitor not getting a power reading from the alternator, so further diagnosing is needed. A voltage cable check gets the system online and ready for a test run. While Devyn would prefer to run the planter in the field, it’s too wet and we settle for several passes in Jackson’s gravel lot, turning the section control off and on. “It always takes a little playing around,” Devyn says.
10:17 a.m. After crisscrossing the yard a half-dozen times with planting passes and popping in and out of the tractor to measure the distance between seed placement, Devyn is satisfied with the test, though he tells Jackson he’ll be back to make sure everything is running as it should once planting starts. “Sometimes, you have to improvise, but it went pretty smooth and sometimes there can be some issues with the Kinze planter and the Deere tractor, but he had all the latest software, and that makes a big difference,” Devyn says.
10:32 a.m. We wrap up with Jackson and Eric heads toward Hortonville, Wis., which is about 40 minutes away. We jump into Devyn’s Ford F-150 XL and are on our way to Plainfield, Wis., which is about an hour west in the part of the state known as the “central sands” where we have several customer visits scheduled.
“Teachable moments” are part of the job, and the key is to minimize those mistakes and learn from them, says Devyn Van Camp, who is one of 4 Integrated Solutions consultants with Riesterer & Schnell.
10:54 a.m. It’s been a busy ride so far, with Devyn fielding several customer calls, while also trying to connect with other IS specialists and store technicians to see who — if anyone — is available to assist. It’s part triage and part chess, as Devyn tries to prioritize problems and strategize the option for satisfying each customer. A few morning conversations involve the need to retrain a custom applicator for a potato grower on exporting as applied data from a dry box spreading unit and another customer with a field mapping issue on a 40-foot air seeder planting peas.
11:25 a.m. Another call requires more hands-on investigation, so we pull off to the side of the road so Devyn can log into a customer’s display on his tablet through JDLink to try and assist with a flow meter set up. “It’s one of my dairy customers with a new flow meter and rate controller for mapping and controlling his manure on the tanker,” explains Devyn. “He’s trying to get setup and called me last night to see if I could come out today, but I told him I was already booked so I’ll see if I can get someone out there for him.” The dealership has 4 full-time IS specialist and an IS service technician at each location, but Devyn notes, “there’s just not enough bodies this time of year.”
11:46 a.m. As we near our next destination, we get a call from a frustrated customer who is having difficulty with his auto-steer system in the field. The problem is magnified by the fact that the customer is a recent convert to Deere equipment and had the technology in his new tractor set up the day before. Devyn attempts to talk him though a solution by disconnecting the 20/20 monitor and reconnecting the receiver, but it’s going to require a visit. “This throws a big wrench in the day,” he says. “As bad as I want to drop everything to run over there, I need to get someone from the shop out there. We’re trying to groom these kinds of steering issues to go through our service department, so we can mainstream those calls and have them taken care of on a local level.” Devyn makes a series of calls to see if someone can get to the customer asap, while also doing some investigating into how the tractor was initially setup and if there was something missed. “Sometimes you have to be the bad guy,” he says.
12:02 p.m. Still waiting to get word on when and who will be able to tend to the auto-steer issue, we arrive at our next visit in Plainfield, Wis., a large-scale specialty crop producer. We’re here to activate the automated wireless data server on a 16-row 1725R planter through the customer’s tablet in his 8370R tractor for high definition mapping. The farm is one of a handful of customers that have purchased the dealership’s hardware management plan, which is an all-encompassing precision package that includes all of the operation’s technology for an annual charge. “We offer 3- or 5-year agreements and that keeps the customer upgraded every year and then the trade-in value of the hardware is applied to each year’s annual cost,” he says.
Serving tech-hungry, 20,000-30,000 acre potato and specialty crop operations to smaller, less advanced dairy or corn and soybean farms, Devyn Van Camp thrives on the diversity and service challenges that come with each customer.
12:36 p.m. We wrap up and Devyn gets back to solving the auto-steer saga. It appears the problem with the system is the result of a needed wheel angle sensor re-calibration and Devyn calls the customer back to assure him that help is on the way. Devyn also lets the customer know he plans to personally stop out at his farm to make sure the job got done either this evening or the following morning.
1:00 p.m. We catch our breath and grab some lunch at the Subway in Plainfield. Devyn and I have spicy Italian subs and James goes with steak and cheese. It’s a brief respite from the day’s non-stop activity so far. “Man, my phone won’t shut up today,” Devyn jokes.
1:37 p.m. On our way to our next stop, we check an RTK connection box near Hancock, Wis. The location, an abandoned grain mill, is part of Riesterer & Schnell’s 29-tower network. “We bundle our RTK in with our service plans and have tiered pricing,” Devyn says. “Our first plan is $1,200 per year for tower access and that includes our phone support service ($500). We find that customers with RTK have a lot of technology on their farm, so we like to bundle those offerings together.”
1:55 p.m. We arrive at our next scheduled visit, Heartland Farms, a large potato producer, near Hancock. It’s an expansive operation with rows of storage units. We’re here to activate RTK on one of their R4038 sprayers. Devyn remarks that the customer is largely loyal to another brand of precision equipment, but he is working with them on incorporating some Deere systems. We find the sprayer and connect with Ben, one of the operators.
2:21 p.m. Devyn unpacks a StarFire 6000 receiver, 450 radio and necessary cabling to connect to a 2630 display. As he did earlier in the day during our first visit, Devyn has Ben download of the Riesterer & Schnell app to manage their RTK account. “We used to just give customers a laminated card with the towers and picture of where they are, so the app is a lot handier for reference points and we can also send notifications out if a tower fails so our customers know,” he says.
"The second I go into the store, I’ll be bombarded with questions, so it’s wise to figure it out in the truck and keep going..."
2:47 p.m. We head over to the sprayer in one of the sheds where Devyn walks Ben through setup and the two also swap spring stories about what’s been working and what hasn’t. Throughout each of our visits and calls, a hallmark of Devyn’s interaction with customers has been his attentiveness and conversational approach — a tactic which has a calming influence during a stressful time of year. We finish up and he makes a call to see if someone has been dispatched to solve the auto-steer issue. A deep sigh after a brief conversation indicates that the problem continues to linger into the afternoon. “This time of year, your day is dependent on how those morning calls go,” he says.
3:17 p.m. Our next stop is a customer who is a supplier for Seneca Foods near Coloma, Wis. They are in the field planting peas and had been having problems recording and reporting varieties and headland boundary set-ups, which Devyn suspects could be related to a hydraulics issue. “Last year, they only used AutoTrac and now they are setting boundaries, using section control, the whole 9 yards.”
3:30 p.m. We meet Dustin, one of the farm managers and follow him to the field where we find the 72-row pea drill at work. It’s slow going after recent rains, preventing many area farmers from planting. Dustin admits they are pushing it a little, but given that they are already a week behind schedule, the extremely sandy soils are forgiving enough to get some acres planted today. We notice the drill stopped in the field and the consensus is that the openers likely plugged.
Throughout each of our visits and calls, a hallmark of Devyn Van Camp’s interaction with customers is his “show and tell” attentiveness and conversational approach — a tactic which has a calming influence during a stressful time of year.
3:45 p.m. We opt to hop in Devyn’s truck and head into the field to meet the drill. “This sand is the reason I keep good tires on my truck,” Devyn says. “It’s like quicksand.” The operator finishes manually clearing out the row units and Devyn hops into to the 9530 tractor to assist with entering varieties and check the settings.
4:01 p.m. With the system functional and tested, we’re ready to head out when Devyn gets a call from dealership technician Nate Bunkelman, letting him know the auto-steer issue has been corrected on his customer’s farm. “Whew, he’s all good,” Devyn says with a sigh of relief. “It ended up being a mistake we made and once it was fixed, it worked perfectly. It was a whole day that could have been prevented, but it was a lesson learned for next time. Big weight off my shoulders, though.”
4:32 p.m. We check in with a customer near Stevens Point, Wis., where we’re headed next to meet a dry spreader custom applicator in the field, so Devyn can walk the operator through file transfer. On our way, we make a brief detour to the store in Stevens Point so Devyn can sort out the resale of one of the dealership’s utility vehicles, which had been used for boundary mapping services. “I still have 2,200 acres left to map this spring, so I’m looking for one,” he says. “But the second I go into the store, I’ll be bombarded with questions, so it’s wise to figure it out in the truck and keep going.”
4:47 p.m. We arrive at Plover River Farms and find that we beat the dry box spreader to the farm. Devyn logs into JDLink to find the location of the machine, which is about 10 minutes away. While we wait, he takes time to pop into the cab of the customer’s new R4038 sprayer parked outside to double-check the display settings and file transfer capabilities. The customer meets us and asks Devyn about getting his 2630 display to work in the cab, and Devyn says he can manually solve a compatibility issue through SMS software to convert the maps. He heads to the flatbed of his truck to grab what he needs for another customer who he receives a call from. It’s one of the more organized service trucks I’ve seen with individual bins for tools, harnesses, RTK equipment, climbing gear (for RTK towers) and receiver and display products.
5:10 p.m. The spreader arrives and we find it in the field adjacent to the farm. Devyn walks out to meet the operator in the field and hops in for a few passes to get him comfortable with sending the application files. “It’s more preventative maintenance and making sure data is coming in correctly,” Devyn says. “This time of year, it’s crucial to have this done right because the customer doesn’t want to find out their data hasn’t been documented properly.”
5:52 p.m. We arrive back at our vehicle after about 150 miles of windshield time, more than two dozen phone conversations and everyone’s sanity intact, despite some stressful moments throughout this day in the cab.
Check Out Day In the Cab Videos!
Take a closer look at a day in the life on the job with Devyn Van Camp, Integrated Solutions consultant with Riesterer & Schnell, through exclusive videos filmed during Precision Farming Dealer’s Day in the Cab. Visit www.PrecisionFarmingDealer.com/ditc.
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