The more things change, the more they stay the same. Well, at least a couple of them. It was a cool and dreary day when I rode along with Phil Moskal, then precision farming specialist with Mid-State Equipment in 2013 for the first Day in the Cab profile in this series.
Nearly 7 years later, I rendezvoused with Phil again — now Integrated Solutions Manager at Mid-State — for another overcast, rainy Day in the Cab. Aside from the weather, and the same ringtone on his smartphone — AC/DC’s “Back in Black” — Phil’s role, if not his musical tastes, have evolved right along with the precision systems he sells and services.
Phil joined the 9-store dealership in 2009 and has helped broaden the company’s precision reach, developing and expanding its RTK subscription network, experimenting with precision service pricing and packaging and transitioning customers into John Deere’s Operations Center and JDLink platforms.
Throughout a busy, if not chaotic day on the cusp of fall harvest in Wisconsin, Phil fully utilized the typically scarce flexibility of time for updates, upgrades and activations, while also preparing for the dealership’s seasonal customer clinic.
5:41 a.m. As usual, I beat my alarm to the punch and am up and alert. A few initial chugs of coffee and the rest in a to-go cup, I meet Ben Thorpe, our associate research editor at the Lessiter Media office. We grab our gear, check a few morning emails and hit the road for the 45-mile trip to Mid-State’s location in Watertown, Wis.
"We can save 1-4 hours of time having that code ahead of time. An hour of downtime on a 12-row planter can be 5 acres..."
8:07 a.m. We pull into the parking lot and dodge the raindrops walking into the dealership. We’re informed that Phil is working out of the Solutions Center which is the building just across the equipment lot. We make the 200-or-so-yard drive and head inside. The building shop has a range of equipment, including a 9600i chopper, lawn tractors and compact tractors, in various stages of repair and inspection.
Phil pops out of the adjoining office and meets us. After several years of working out of the dealership’s Janesville, Wis., location (where I met Phil for the first Day in the Cab), he transferred to the Watertown location in 2018, once Mid-State made it the centralized precision location. The vast majority of technology components and hardware inventory are stored in the Solutions Center which Phil says has streamlined access and efficiency in getting precision parts to other stores.
“The building used to be used as a set-up shop for equipment, but we had the room to centrally store almost all of our precision inventory,” he says. “Now we’re able to track and manage what is going where a lot more efficiently and communicate when it needs to be there.”
Working with Integrated Solutions Specialist Wyatt Davidson (r) to update a John Deere 2630 monitor and GreenStar3 receiver in-house, Phil Moskal says the ability to multi-task vs. dedicating road time to service calls increases turnaround time and efficiency for hardware upgrades.
8:24 a.m. Phil gets his first call and Ben and I get to enjoy the first few chords of the “Back in Black” ringtone. An earpiece allows Phil to work hands-free on his laptop as he lets the customer in the Janesville area know he’ll be dropping off a set of data cards after pulling planting information off to upload to Deere’s Operations Center.
“We’re moving more and more customers over to Operations Center, revamping our service plans to get customers to do the data themselves, or we can do it for them,” Phil explains. “It’s a work in progress, but we’re experimenting with tiered levels where the entry point is phone and email support for $300 per year and then coming to our customer meetings where we’ll talk about updates and upgrades.”
A key selling point to customers has been equipment efficiency vs. new hardware investment. Phil shares an example from this past spring working with a dairy customer who had Deere’s new Gen4 displays installed in the armrest of all but one of his tractors. But he was still moving 4 of Deere’s 2630 displays between tractors and not utilizing the technology he had integrated into the machinery.
Phil worked with the customer to upgrade his setup for a minimal investment that allowed him to trade out the 2630s and fully utilize the Gen4 displays. “We have a fair number of dairy customers and they use their equipment. Whereas a grain farmer might put 300 hours on a tractor per year, dairy customers, if they are mixing feed, put 8-10 hours a day on those tractors and it’s 2,000-3,000 hours per year. So they are constantly trading equipment every 3-5 years and naturally getting into the new technology.”
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Take a closer look at a day in the life on the job with Phil Moskal, Integrated Solutions Manager with Mid-State Equipment, through exclusive video filmed during Precision Farming Dealer’s Day in the Cab. Visit PrecisionFarmingDealer.com/ditc.
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8:37 a.m. Wyatt Davidson, integrated solutions consultant, arrives “right on time,” according to Phil, with a cup of Karuba coffee in hand. Wyatt started as a summer intern and then worked part-time the following winter before joining he dealership full-time in 2018, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.
He arrives with a box of laptops which will be used for the customer meeting planned for the following week in the upstairs conference room. Wyatt also brings a customer’s 2630 monitor and StarFire 3000 receiver which need updating ahead of harvest along with a new JDLink terminal.
Phil and Wyatt connect the equipment to a tool bench with a CAN system in the office for the upgrade. Shortly after moving into the building, Phil purchased the tool bench and installed the CAN system, with an ISO connector, cabling for a receiver and display.
“With the support package, customers can bring in their displays and receivers for upgrades and it’s efficient, because we don’t have to make that trip out to their farm. Especially on a day like this, we can be multitasking in the office while the hardware is updating.”
But Phil also notes they are encouraging more use of Deere’s Remote Display Access, which gives specialists the ability to virtually diagnose and solve technology issues. Phil and Wyatt’s office space includes a wall with 3 mounted flatscreen TVs to remotely connect with customers’ displays.
“In a lot of cases, we can usually visualize what the customer is seeing, but when we can’t, seeing what they see is a real time-saver,” Phil says. “We can literally dial into the tractor, pull the error codes, do early diagnosis at the store and then if a tech needs to make a trip to that farm with a part or component, he’ll know what he needs before he goes. We can save 1-4 hours of time having that code ahead of time. An hour of downtime on a 12-row planter can be 5 acres.”
"Sometimes, instead of 7 mouse clicks it might take 12 if I need to dig a little deeper for the info..."
9:15 a.m. Phil gets his fourth call of the day from Joe Sinkula, Integrated Solutions Manager with Riesterer & Schnell, asking if they have a John Deere HavestLab 3000 system. Phil refers him to another Deere dealer, who is part of their virtual peer group. The two discuss how much rain has fallen in their respective parts of Wisconsin the last few days and Joe says customer in his area will likely be chopping corn silage in the next day or so.
“We were supposed to be doing chopper demos today, but it’s been so wet that we had to shut that down until early next week,” Phil says.
9:37 a.m. Phil talks a customer through a missing field data question. “He harvested a field without a boundary in Operations Center and only 1 day of data was showing up, so I went in and reprocessed the data, and that solved the problem.” Phil also asked the customer if he was planning on attending the upcoming customer meeting at the Watertown store.
Mid-State’s Solutions Center in Watertown, Wis., is where the majority of the 9-store dealership’s precision inventory is stored. The centrally-located store makes hardware and components easily accessible for employees and readily available for customers.
In the past, Mid-State would hold 2-day customer meetings at its Janesville and Columbus, Wis., locations, but decided to centralize the meetings in Watertown. The location also has the largest conference room of the dealership’s stores, which is beneficial in the age of social distancing. Phil says they have enough space to accommodate a small group of 10 or so customers at a time in the conference room.
He also notes that the upcoming meetings will focus on showcasing the abilities of the JDLink terminals as an efficient and affordable upgrade for customers. “It’s $600 for the terminals, and there’s a program Deere has that allows for a $200-$400 discount, so if it’s $300 for the terminal, a customer gets 3 years of wireless data transfer. They view it as a good value. It’s like an insurance policy.”
10:39 a.m. Wyatt checks on the 2630 monitor updates which are wrapping up. Phil tears into a granola bar and I ask if it’s a late breakfast or early lunch. “Yes,” he says. He is catching up on working through a list of 50 customers and 150 terminals that need JDLink wireless data transfer activations. The codes are part of a Deere promotion that expires in the middle of the month, so Phil is making sure the activations are made in time. “The customers get an email about the activation and everyone agrees to extend wireless data transfer on their machines.”
Phil says it takes about 5-10 minutes per customer to pull the code and complete each activation. “Sometimes, instead of 7 mouse clicks it might take 12 if I need to dig a little deeper for the info.”
11:10 a.m. Time to stretch our legs and walk over to the main store. It’s been raining all morning with no end in sight, but we luck out with only a light drizzle as we step outside. Phil says when the weather confines him to an “office day in the cab” he’ll be sure to still take a couple mental breaks and check in at the store to see if any mail has come in or touch base with the service manager.
11:45 a.m. Back at the Solutions Center, we head to the upstairs conference room which overlooks the shop floor. Phil gets 6 laptops arranged and connected on the conference room tables, which are arranged in a U-shape with a projector and screen at the front of the room. Since he has the time, Phil prefers to get the room prepped for the customer meetings coming up the following week. This time of year, he averages 10-20 customer calls per day, a volume which will increase the deeper into fall harvest they get.
12:15 p.m. After a series of questions about precision tech from Ben, Phil excitedly opens up a small closet next to his desk and reveals his collection of Deere receivers. After educating Ben on the history of receivers and the progression of the tech through the years, Phil says he’d like to take these “relics” and arrange them on the wall of the upstairs conference room.
“I’d like to have a plaque explaining when they were released and what they were used for. I’d like to do the same with our older displays too.”
Phil shows off a first-generation Deere display they keep on hand, nicknamed, a “brown box” because of its distinct color. He says they keep one because some customers still use them in their combines, but otherwise he prefers to sell or trade older precision hardware to dealers out west, who still have a need for more mature precision tools.
"With the support package, customers can bring in their displays and receivers for upgrades and it’s efficient, because we don’t have to make that trip out to their farm..."
“I used to talk to a dealer in Montana who said that’s where technology goes to die,” Phil says. “Out there, it’s just broad-acre small grain. One of this dealer’s customers has 2-mile long rows. They work with older equipment, because they have lower margins. These farmers might want a brown box just to keep the tractor straight on those long rows.”
12:29 p.m. Phil runs out to the Janesville store to return the planting data cards to the customer who called earlier and pick up some new RTK coverage map posters for the Watertown store.
2:20 p.m. After a bite to eat at a local Mexican restaurant recommended by Phil, we return to the Solutions Center. Phil pops the top on a tapioca pudding cup and notes that while he’ll often bring lunch from home and that he also has a tendency to “graze” throughout the day. Wyatt sheepishly admits that he went to McDonald’s, but we assure him there’s no shame in the occasional Big Mac.
3:15 p.m. Phil gets a call back from his Deere rep about a customer’s 2600 display that does constant reboots. Phil plans to send the display to Deere Electronics Reman, but wants to make sure it will be repaired, since the touchscreen had already been replaced once, with non-OEM parts.
After several years of working out of the dealership’s Janesville, Wis., location Phil Moskal transferred to the Watertown location in 2018, where he works out of the Solutions Center, adjacent to Mid-State Equipment’s main store at the location.
Typically, the process works fine, but Phil says for peace of mind, he wants to get assurance the display will get fixed. “I just don’t want them to see a non-Deere part in there and not fix it, even though they can repair it with an OEM part.”
4:02 p.m. Phil unwraps a brownie bar for a late afternoon, low-carb sugar infusion as Wyatt wraps up in the office and plans to swing by the Columbus store, which is on his way home.
4:27 p.m. With the receiver and monitor updates complete, Phil disconnects the hardware from the work bench and packs it up. We walk over to the shop at the dealership where the customer’s combine is sitting, and Phil does a test run of the updates. Everything goes according to plan, and we stroll back to the Solutions Center, with the rain finally subsiding.
The shop is quiet, and we thank Phil for an educational experience. I note that no two of these have ever been the same, and this was certainly true of my second Day in the Cab at Mid-State Equipment.