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In this episode of the Precision Farming Dealer podcast, we go 1-on-1 with Linco-Precision owner Skip Klinefelter for a conversation about his company’s recent expansion and the future of precision ag in general.

Skip Klinefelter began adopting precision farming technology 17 years ago on his 3,100-acre farm near Nokomis, Ill. He was quickly frustrated with the lack of technical support offered by local dealers, so he became a precision technology dealer himself.

Now, almost two decades later, he is the owner of Linco-Precision in El Paso, Ill. In the summer of 2022, Linco-Precision joined forces with Bottom Line Solutions in Morton, Ill., to form one of the largest precision farming sales and service companies in the Midwest. Klinefelter’s company recently expanded its footprint even further with the purchase of Dairy One Cooperative’s precision farming assets in Ithaca, N.Y.

In this episode of the podcast, Klinefelter discusses the motivations behind major expansion and shares tips for successfully managing employees and servicing customers from afar. Klinefelter also identifies up-and-coming precision technology and trends to keep an eye on.

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Full Transcript

Noah Newman:

Welcome to another edition of the Precision Farming Dealer podcast. I'm Noah Newman, your host and associate editor. This week, we're going one-on-one with Skip Klinefelter, who is the owner of Linco-Precision in El Paso, Illinois. They became a lot bigger over the summer when they joined forces with Bottom Line Solutions as they formed one of the largest precision farming sales and service companies in the Midwest. And then this fall, they expanded their footprint even further after buying Dairy One Cooperatives Precision Farming Assets in Ithaca, New York. So we're going to talk with Skip about that expansion and also get his take on the future of precision ag in general. So without further ado, let's jump right in. Here's Skip.

Skip Klinefelter:

Skip Klinefelter with Linco-Precision. It's an Ag Technology Solutions group that we've formed. And we've had some expansion over the years, started on the farm back in 2002 and started with Precision Planting products and added Trimble and Ag Leader and several other products along the way. We ended up purchasing the assets at Linco Equipment, El Paso, Illinois over the years and we are operating out of El Paso now. But we've had some expansion recently and we do sell ag equipment, fertilizer equipment mostly. But where we all started was in precision ag equipment. We've recently added a facility in Morton, Illinois, that's Bottom Line Solutions, that comes under our umbrella. And more recently we purchased the assets, the precision planting farming assets, of Dairy One Cooperative in New York. Just that portion of their business, not the whole business. We have two employees out there and are looking to expand our footprint. We do represent a couple of new and upcoming equipments in precision side and fertilizer equipment side basically east of the Mississippi River and that's kind of where we are today.

Noah Newman:

I wanted to take a look back and when you think about when you first got into precision technology, what was your big motivation for getting into precision ag?

Skip Klinefelter:

Gregg Sauder, that started Precision Planting, I went to a meeting he had and looked at how he was looking and tweaking planter meters and checking out their efficiency. As most people know, he improved the corn planter more than anybody, I think, that's been out there today. He since sold the business to Monsanto and then AGCO owns it now. But still, I listened to that and I looked at what the local people were doing with their planter meters. I actually bought a meter machine because I was pretty sure, on the acres we were farming, that I would do a better job and pay for the machine. We started there and we started doing a few neighbors' meters and then Precision Planting expanded into some more products that we helped beta test for them and then into electronic products. And they're managing a lot of things on the liquid and their planters today and we kind of grew with that.

But in the middle of that we bought a couple of tractors and I wanted auto steer on them and nobody locally was doing that. And we went through three different companies and ended up contacting Trimble. Just kind of a funny story why we contacted them is because one of my relative's landlords had a Trimble light bar on the front of his tractor that came out of an airplane, out of a spray plane. And when we weren't satisfied with what we were being offered and the service and stuff by other companies, we contracted our Trimble representative in Indiana. And within 30 minutes we could see the whole price list, the list price and the products they had, and we ended up doing RTK Trimble products on our farm. And everything on our farm is RTK and is Trimble powered. So we got into that.

And then we added some other companies because at the time Ag Leader was pretty good on flow and application control and Trimble wasn't. Trimble since entered that market, but we're still Ag Leader dealers. And we have some other things, but a lot of it was driven by the fact that I wanted those technologies on our farm. There's a ag economist consultant out of Iowa, Moe Russell, and he was quoted one time, and I've quoted him several times at meetings, of saying to our group that, and Moe actually said this originally of, "You don't have to adapt or adopt these new technologies that are coming out today, but you do have to compete against the people that do." And there's just a lot of truth to that.

Another thing too is if you have children coming in behind you and you don't do some of these, you don't adapt to things, the technologies that are keeping you even with everybody else, somebody is going to end up eating you at some point in time because they're just going to outproduce you. They're going to be able to pay more rents because of the technologies that are working. One of the big challenges always is what technology actually pays, what's the ROI? And ag technologies as a whole, it's kind of like some of the other products that have hit the hotspot and then gone away. A lot of things in ag technologies, there was a solution looking for a problem instead of a solution to cure a problem. That's what our company, I think, is pretty well known for.

We basically can come on your farm and do ag technology consulting to see, but a lot of people have it in their mind what they want to do that's not always the most efficient or maybe the correct thing to do. If you're going to initiate and instill different technologies on your farm you want to do them in somewhat of an order. Just throwing RTK out there, not knowing the steering side of things, not knowing anything else you're doing, you may be overspending. If you're just going to do broad acre tillage or broad acre seeding, maybe you don't need that but maybe you should take the money you save by not being that high of accuracy and instill or initiate something else.

And we basically do technology audits for farmers where we sit down and, "What do you want to do? Why do you want to do... What fits, what equipment do you have, what are your future goals?" It's not rocket science but just trying to put things in an orderly direction, especially if you're going to walk into it slowly. The slower you walk into it probably the more important it is that you get the order right.

Noah Newman:

Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned Linco buying the precision farming assets of Dairy One, that was big news. So what does that mean for Linco and what can customers get from you that maybe they couldn't get access to otherwise?

Skip Klinefelter:

There's a product called SIMPAS and Smart Box Plus. It's a replacement for the Smart Box insecticide products. And it will basically allow you at this time to put on three separate products, dry products, per each planter row by prescription going through the field. It keeps track of it. There's RFID tags in the boxes that keep track of disappearance. You actually only pay for what you use so if you bring a pallet of three different types of products out and you end up not using it all, you only pay for what disappears out of the box. That product was developed in conjunction between AMVAC corporation and Trimble Navigation and Trimble dealers are the sole distribution arm for that product.

And there is a separate license granted to dealers to handle SIMPAS and Smart Box Plus. We were granted one of if not the first license to do the distribution and our sales were over three times the next dealer last year which was a full year of kickoff. And we had people reaching out to us from the AMVAC Corporation, their regional people from the east coast area, and we had developed a relationship with Dairy One. We're actually looking at possibly somehow melding our precision arms together. They looked at us as being successful in the precision side of things and they had people asking about the SIMPAS product.

They have a close relationship with some colleges out there, Cornell being one of them. They do some test plots on some at the Cornell Research Farm. We were invited in with the SIMPAS unit to put on little promotion. And throughout all of that and Dairy One's reach of basically 13 states on the east coast from kind of Delaware on up, we were granted the license in that area from Trimble to do SIMPAS. And originally we thought we were going to be using the Dairy One employees for the promotion of that product, not the whole Trimble line, because there is a licensed by contract Trimble dealer up there. But since we had the knowledge on the SIMPAS and we had boots on the ground through Dairy One and in just through conversations and talked back and forth, they are a digital company where they handle a lot of data with milk testing and soil testing and things, and once we got through to all the discussions of what we thought the synergies were, we ended up purchasing their precision farming arm.

And as we sell products that develop and generate data, the plan is for Dairy One to be able to crunch that data for their customers, us to handle the hardware and support for those products, of which the SIMPAS is one. But precision planting, Ag Leader, things like that, the other products. We currently do some fertilizer products from the first band of states west of Mississippi all the way to the east coast. So we do have a couple of other things that are in the works that are going to exponentially expand our reach and our business. There's some new technologies, not for you to talk about now, but they're pretty exciting and that's kind of what keeps me involved in this. Even though we named Lloyd Lewis as our general manager about a year ago, he's taken the reins, our business without the addition of the two new additions, our business has grown just slightly under 40% in the last year.

Part of that is recovery in agriculture sure help, but they're a really good team together. But the Dairy One deal, it just kind of evolved during conversations with them and the synergies that we could put together and then the AMVAC people reaching out to us saying, "Can you handle a couple people here in Delaware and can you do this and can you do that?" Well, through the Dairy One relationship we could. And again, as I said, it just kind of evolved into the part where we have two full-time employees out there right now and we're interviewing more, but one of them was a Dairy one employee and another one is a new employee out there. Kind of where we are today with that.

The other products that we're looking at and two companies came to us and it's distribution on new technologies that are here today but they are not being promoted for full release yet by anybody. Both the technologies we're looking at are out there and working today, but they're just on the cusp of being released to the general public. It'll be limited release in 2023, full release in 2024. And those are kind of why I keep involved in stuff. I guess those are exciting to me as a production ag person. I'm pretty good with the torch and a welder here on the farm in our own shop and the technologies really intrigue me. We do a lot of testing on our own farm and that, I guess, keeps me getting up in the morning and going ahead. That's exciting to me.

Noah Newman:

Yeah, absolutely. How exciting is it to expand your reach, as you mentioned, to that east coast? I think you said, what, Dairy One reaches 13 states on the east coast? And does that come with any extra challenges of having to manage or service from afar?

Skip Klinefelter:

Well, it obviously does, as you could imagine. But it's kind of benefits of, I don't know, bad or challenging times. Four or five years ago we tried to initiate something where we could do remote meetings with our team and we tried Google Meets, we tried Zoom, and they worked but not very well. And then Covid hit and the whole world had to do something different and all of those platforms just exponentially improved. And we hired three people that I never met in person until after we hired them. And we have regular Zoom meetings on the management team and then we do occasionally when we're introducing a new product or something we'll be on a Teams or Google Meets or Zoom meeting and that... I think one of the biggest benefits from doing these is that people are used to doing it. It wasn't that it wasn't really available before kind of a one-on-one type thing or two or three people meeting, but we can put as many people as we want on a lot of these remote meetings now.

I still like to see people's faces and I think most customer facing people, sales people, like to see faces. But there's a whole lot of stuff that can be handled more efficiently digitally through Zoom or even on the phone and people are accepting that more. Five years ago if you didn't come see me face to face, I probably wasn't going to buy anything from you again. If I'm not worth it, forget it. Well, today people realizing how much time that saves both ends and we can do a lot. We're managing them from afar. Also, a lot of the screens today on the technology side, we can grab those digitally and walk people through issues, problems.

And some customers really are not comfortable with pushing buttons while they're Zooming you on the phone. And other customers will hope you do it that way, partially because it gets you to them hours sooner sometimes. And if they understand the technology and what buttons to push when you ask them to, they can get back going up and going just a tremendous amount quicker than somebody having to drive there and somebody having to drive back and it's less expensive for them too. We have one of our suppliers here on the farm, a vendor, it costs me $225 for him just to drive up my lane before they start charging me for anything. That's a really expensive phone call. Now, I don't think we've ever had a phone call that anybody got charged that much for and that's just the trip charge.

Noah Newman:

Yeah, that's a lot.

Skip Klinefelter:

So we can cover more people with less people more efficiently. It's just huge advantage and that it really is a function as much of anything of Covid.

Noah Newman:

Yeah, that was one of the positive to come out of it is it seems like everyone's more comfortable with Zoom technology and you connect with people across the country. I guess I'm kind of old school. That's why we're doing this on the phone right now.

Skip Klinefelter:

Yeah, well, and we don't have problems with it. It's another digital thing. You say old school but, by the same token, when we did interviews with magazines 25, 30 years ago somebody was here with their non-digital camera, taking six rolls of film and they had to drive here and they had to do this and they had to do that. We've done a couple things on, well, actually they were photo contest type of things, where our lead technology guy, Andy Waters, took some drone footage. And of course he didn't win the competition, but six months later I am watching a kickout in Spain of some of Trimble's new products. And there on about a 14 by 20 screen on the back of a stage behind the Trimble representative was our [inaudible 00:18:07] combine, the grain cart, sowing 18 rows of corn running through my father-in-law's field.

We didn't win the competition, but it was good enough to put in a worldwide stage and they've used it in several advertisements since then. And all of that was done digitally. Just bang, bang, it's done. And somebody saying, "That's kind of cool," and used it. We didn't win the competition, but we made the world stage so it's gratifying.

Noah Newman:

Well, this has been a great conversation. Anything else you'd like to add before we let you go?

Skip Klinefelter:

There's a couple things that I think if somebody is actually going to listen to this. We see some things I think in the future that are coming up. Autonomous vehicles, they're out there today, they aren't widespread. We have one friend that's mowing three Air force bases with autonomous tractors now and they won a competition in the Department of Defense. It is Sivanto, there are some interesting people there. And they're using kind of small midsize tractors, although they have one larger tractor that they've done this on. And they're not the only one in that space but that's really interesting to see what's going to happen.

Another thing that I think bears mention is the See & Spray technology that John Deere has. Green Eye Technology has it. A couple of other companies have it. That is going to change the way that we apply chemicals and the amount that we apply. And as the green people demand further changes in chemical uses and stuff, I know Green Eye had a test with University of Nebraska at Lincoln this year, and I believe they reduced chemical use, by doing spot spraying, by 87%. Well, that's pretty huge if you're worried about that kind of thing.

The third thing that I think is going to probably make as big a difference in production agriculture as anything since, I don't know, probably since hybrid corn and the new varieties is the biological space today. All the big names are pouring money into that bucket. And although there are millions of different biologies in the soil out there, guys with the big bucks plus the guys that are doing it in their garage are sorting that out. We can see more consistent results with some of those products and a lot of them are coming to market. I think that's going to be our next, those two, to production.

And we have all these deals out there on the sustainability side. A lot of people in the university and stuff have been preaching this on sustainability and traceability. That is happening. I know one company, full disclosure, I have nothing to do with them, they have nothing to do with me, but I did notice the Driscoll strawberries had a code on the bottom of their packages and you can actually trace those strawberries back to where they came from. And it's pretty hard to do that in just mass commodities but there are capabilities of taking it back to the field now for sure. And depending on the product and how well it's identity preserved, you can actually take it to the area of the field that you harvested something in. And I think the consumers, or the people that are wagging the consumer's tail, are going to demand more of that in the future. And it's happening and the technology is here and it'll just get better. So I guess that's a little of my outlook and I hope I'm around long enough to see some more of this. It's a lot of fun.

Noah Newman:

And that'll wrap things up for this week's podcast. Thanks once again to Skip Klinefelter for taking the time to join us for this week's Precision Farming Dealer podcast. Head to to catch older episodes and also head there to register for the Precision Farming Dealer Summit, which is coming up January 9th and 10th. Guess who's going to be there as well? Skip Klinefelter. Yes, is taking the podium at the summit. So if you want to hear more from him, head to the website and register your spot for the conference. Until next time, I'm Noah Newman. Have a great day.