Looking back at my relatively short career in the industry (16 years and counting), Farm Equipment magazine has been a go-to resource for everything from industry news about new customer trends and products to best practices. There is always a plethora of data to review. One of my favorite things about the magazine is the featured dealers. I love reading about what others have done that has worked and the honesty and humility to talk about what didn’t. The manufacturer stories are also always great.
When I think about the biggest changes in the industry over the last 55 years, 2 things come to mind. The first is consolidation. Consolidation has taken place at a rapid pace in the equipment industry among dealers over the past 15-20 years. This has been driven by the efficiencies gained through consolidation as businesses adopt more technology as well as high capital requirements as machinery becomes increasingly expensive. Dealers have not been the only ones consolidating along the way, though. Manufacturers have merged and consolidated, changing names and altering the dealer landscape, as well. We've seen partnerships that have lasted, like Case and International Harvester along with Steiger. We have also seen some that didn’t work long term, like John Deere and Precision Planting or AGCO and Caterpillar. While all of this has been going on, the average farm size has continued to grow, and the number of farms continues to shrink. Consolidation.
The second change is technology. Fifty-five years ago, the Steiger tractor was still just taking off and still being built in a barn. Folks were still running equipment without cabs let alone AC. They were about to discover electronic flow metering in the '70s, then variable-rate drives and yield monitoring and finally GPS in the early '90s. We had a rubber track revolution in the late '90s. In the last 15 years, we have come into a new age of the digital connected farm focused on technology adoption. We have figured out how to put sensors everywhere to measure every aspect of what is done on the farm. We have computers powerful enough to measure, calculate and adjust multiple times every second. This is harnessing "big data." We are on the cusp of large-scale autonomy adoption and just scratching the surface of what AI can do in the industry. This is the new frontier; the score is kept in terabytes and GPUs.
When I look back at the last 50 years, I can think of several impactful moments in our industry’s history. Several were referenced above. The one that I think has made the most impact on how we do business is the advent of GPS on equipment. For Case IH, this came a couple years before John Deere. But adopting this has had a huge impact on everyone in the industry, from manufacturers to dealers to farmers. It changed the way everyone does their business. It created precision farming.