Ben Flansburg of LandPro Equipment, Bryan Fehr of Jenner Precision, Jason Leary of Crystal Valley Co-op and Scott Hoober of Hoober Inc. joined Precision Farming Dealer executive editor Kim Schmidt on stage at the 2023 Precision Farming Dealer Summit for a discussion about their award winning organizations and the precision farming industry as a whole. Here are some highlights from the conversation. 

How have you been growing your precision revenue? What's changed in how you are approaching the Precision side of the business since your dealership was recognized as the Most Valuable Dealer (MVD)?

Scott Hoober: We've added a lot more services. We're doing a lot more boundaries today. Boundaries have become such a big deal with these new systems. AFS connect is a big deal. We're adding a lot more services with mapping for customers.

As far as what's changed, we’re trying to do what we're doing a lot better than what we've done it in the past. A lot of our products and the things that we're doing are maturing and getting more reliable. We're trying to be more responsive by providing a better service to our customers than we have in the past. So, we’re just trying to improve that, and hopefully get us to the point where we feel like we get our head above water. Farmers’ biggest need is service and one of our biggest challenges is meeting those expectations.

Jason Leary: On our equipment side, what's changed since 2019, we used to just retrofit customer's planters. Since then, we've been buying used planters, flipping them and selling new planters.

The biggest change has been on our Precision agronomy side. Rather than the Precision ag portion be an expense with a lot of intangible values, we've now got our own P&L. We're trying to make a profit center out of that, rather than just an intangible value added to our existing customers. We've added some subscription services, and soil sampling, yield maps, prescriptions and some of the drone flights. We’ve also made some packages out of that for the customers to try and pay for more staff to be more valuable to the customer.

Bryan Fehr: We've focused really hard on service. We raised our service rates, and hired another service tech. Now we have 4 full-time service techs, and then we added another salesman. We're just trying to make sure that the product we sell is something we can service. We're making sure that we have our gold customers and our platinum customers. We see what kind of plan they buy and make sure that we're taking care of them the best we can.

Ben, maybe not what's changed, but where are you guys focused when it comes to growing the precision revenue?

Ben Flansburg: We're focusing more of the service side of things, as far as our specific integrated solutions department goes, and not on the hardware quite as much. We really want our sales team to feel comfortable and have the knowledge to sell the hardware piece. Our department focuses on the services. We've got spring startups programs, but we’re really trying to grow the services part of the business.

How are you structuring that service? What sort of offerings do each of you have in that regard? 

Leary: On the equipment side, we've struggled to come up with the service program there. Where we've been more successful is on the data management prescriptions, yield maps and soil samples. That's a per acre service there. We've had pretty good adoption with that side of it.

Fehr: We have messed around with our service plans for about 7 years, and we kept tweaking them, then we finally figured out that we set a base of $400. If you just want phone and after hour support, it's a $400 maintenance plan. If you don't have a maintenance plan with us, our labor rate and show up fee is one price. If you have a $400 plan, it gets lower. Then there’s our premium plan. It's $1350, and you get after hour support. We answer the phone from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays, and then we give you one free planter inspection. When we say planter inspection — that includes making sure the precision products we've put on that piece works, and is ready to go for the spring.

It's taken some time to get that going, but don't give up on it. I had one service tech last week that sold almost $20,000 in maintenance plans. Once you get the ball rolling and stick with it, they’ll find the value of it, and they're going to continue to buy them. The biggest problem we have is having 4 service techs. We don't farm. This is our baby. We get customers who buy product from other dealers, and then they call us for support. We want to make sure that if we sell you something and you're on our Premier Platinum package, you're getting 100% support. If you buy over $10,000 a year from us, you get a free support plan. That way the customers know that we're there to take care of them.

Flansburg: We've got two kinds of service packages that we offer. One we've done for several years is our annual service plan. The plan includes 2 trips out to the farm, pre-planting, pre-harvest, monitor checks, updates, any kind of hardware rate controllers and a pre-season check. That includes free phone and email support in season as well as access to our hotline number. We kind of split it up. You can pay for it all at once, or we can bill you automatically by the month as well. That's something that both our integrated solutions consultants, or our sales team can sell that to any customer who renews.

Our second one that we're launching for 2023, is what we call our spring startup package. We've got certain set rates. Whether it's a new planter for you, a used planter that you bought from us or maybe something that you've just had for five years. We've got a set rate where one of the integrated solutions members, or one of our more skilled technicians in the shop will come out and spend 2-3 hours actually in the field. They’ll plant with you, make sure everything's adjusted correctly and make sure the monitor's set up. That's an addition to our annual service plans.

We have an uptime program. We come out and clean the monitor out. One of the things we're finding is very important, is cleaning them out before the season starts. We take that information and either get it downloaded into their system, or printing maps out for them. We charge a fee for the maps.

What do you think is the biggest opportunity in precision sales and service for this year and the next couple years ahead?

Fehr: I would say it's the autonomy world. I'm telling you guys; it took 20 years to get farmers to understand GPS. On the autonomy side of it, we had guys standing there saying, "if you can get this on an AGCO tractor, I'm in." The auger wagon, they are bought into it. We just need to get the product that works. Autonomy's coming, and that's why we're adding service tech's because we know that day's coming. We're going to be all-in when it's here.

Leary: We've got some of the most productive farmland in the world. It's not ever going to go un-farmed, so the opportunities are huge. Growers have really understood, they're starting to farm more as a business and look at data decisions, rather than how dad used to do it. A lot of that's education, but I think we really are starting to get some growers to push the limits, try new things, increase yield and increase ROI. Within the precision agronomy area, there's a lot of potential. These acres are going to get consolidated, or they might change hands, but it's not ever going to go un-farmed. So, there's a lot of opportunity to keep improving.

Hoober: Most of our farmers, they really like to hit the easy button. Whatever we can do to help with that and have everything in place so that they can do that with their products that they're running is a huge factor for us going forward. That's what we're focusing on.

Flansburg: I would say the training and education piece is the big opportunity that we look at. All the talk about autonomy, it's not just going to be that easy button that somebody buys tomorrow. There are stepping stones in order for our customers to get there, so they're prepared for that level of technology. The See and Spray, and similar technologies are coming so fast. We need to start building those foundations now with our customers to prepare them for 2-3 years down the road when autonomy becomes reality on their operations.