Visiting with Pete Youngblut, founder and sole proprietor of Youngblut Ag, a precision farming dealership in Dysart, Iowa, it’s immediately clear that his primary focus is on preparing customers for planting — because he has to — regardless of the circumstances.
I caught up with Youngblut in the middle of a hydraulic steering installation on a Case IH MX180 tractor the afternoon of Monday, April 6. Many of his customers are pushing to get planting underway, which has translated to Youngblut averaging about 4-5 hours of sleep per night for the last week.
There are combination of factors contributing to the heightened stress level, says Youngblut, with customers and manufacturers being more cost-conscious than usual.
“People are very anxious, worried about costs, and fearful of a repeat of last year,” he says. “I’m seeing it from vendors as much as anything, who are usually pretty easy going when comes to dollars and cents. It’s a sign of how tight the economy is, top to bottom.”
Interestingly, any direct mention of coronavirus didn’t enter our conversation until at least 20 minutes in, and Youngblut acknowledges that he’s trying to maintain as much of a “business as usual” mentality as possible as to not create more panic than necessary.
Iowa has yet to implement a “stay at home” order and his days are still overpopulated with customer calls, on-farm equipment setups and parts pick-ups. Still,
Youngblut concedes that the pandemic has altered his business management strategy — pushing some in-person sales opportunities off until later in the year — and customer contact — opting for waves instead of handshakes after completing on-farm service calls.
“I was delivering a tile plow to a customer in Minnesota and I stopped to top off the fuel in my truck before getting to the customer, which isn’t something I’d normally do, but with gas stations closing early I had to make the adjustment. I’m still trying to consciously make fewer unnecessary stops each day, if at all possible,” Youngblut says.
Two months ago, Youngblut parted ways with his only employee, a move which at the time was a proactive financial decision than a reactive one. In hindsight, Youngblut says the decision likely proved to be right one, given the current economic situation.
He is also months away from a new shop being completed and opened, at which time he plans to hire another employee, ideally to handle more of the administrative responsibilities, which will allow him to primarily focus on sales and service.
The exact timeline for the grand opening and hire are still unknowns, but Youngblut is keeping an optimistic outlook. To this point, he says COVID-19 has had more of a direct impact on his personal life than professional responsibilities as agriculture is essential.
He has a pre-school-age daughter and a fiancé who is a nurse consultant, working from home and keeping her nurses informed. “She’s been a great link to what’s going on and keeps me informed with the latest as far as what’s changing, what we need to prepare for next,” Youngblut says “She’s even made sure there is hand sanitizer in my truck, but I’ve asked if brake cleaner and shop towels qualify as hand sanitizer?”