Elaborate party plans for my wife’s birthday in late March were derailed by the statewide “safer at home” mandate, which left us with two options. Celebrate in solitude or get creative and make the best of an unusual situation.
I opted for the latter and helped coordinate a virtual birthday party, which proved to be more entertaining and satisfying than anticipated. Was it ideal? Not at all, but it filled a void and provided a problem-solving challenge.
On the cusp of spring planting, dealerships are facing similar dilemmas in that they can accept the new reality of social distancing and self-quarantine, or take advantage of the tools and talent they have to continue delivering high-quality service to farm customers.
Talking with a number of farmers and precision farming dealers throughout North America in recent weeks, virtually all of them (with the exception of a couple who were moonlighting as elementary homeschool teachers), said they were ably navigating through direct disruptions to their operations due to the global pandemic.
Preparing planters and evaluating field conditions were the primary topics of conversation. That’s not to say anyone was dismissing the widespread impact that Covid-19 is having on daily life.
One way dealers are compensating for a change to traditional pre-season plans is to pivot from in-person planter clinics to online versions. Nathan Zimmerman, precision farming manager with A.C. McCartney in Illinois, says the dealership is delivering helpful YouTube links and tutorials to customers, but still making on-farm visits as needed for setups and installations.
Joel Kaczynski, product specialist manager with RDO Equipment Co., a 35-ag store operation, and 2020 Most Valuable Dealership, notes the dealership has also emphasized digital learning tools for customers.
“We’re creating videos of walk-arounds and recommendations for set-ups and then getting links to customers who had planned to attend one of our in-person spring events,” he says.
Another outlet precision dealers are utilizing for communication is remote service tools. Kaczynski and Scott Meldrum, Integrated Solutions manager with Van Wall Equipment in Iowa, both say they’ve seen an uptick in telematic support uptake by customers.
“The remote support option had been steadily growing even before the current coronavirus outbreak,” Meldrum says. “Growers were seeing the value in the use of remote display access to get answers to their questions faster.”
But dealers acknowledge the remote communication still has its limitations, especially as farmers get closer to getting into the field. While dealers are passing along social distancing guidelines to customers ahead of on-farm visits, the reality is specialists still need to climb into a tractor cab, manually check planter drives or test run prescriptions in the field.
As Meldrum notes, “agriculture is a very hands on business and that means dealers still need to go out and work on machines. We have communicated with our customers and asked that when a service technician or a precision specialist is out at their location, please respect the 6-10 feet buffer to allow everyone to hopefully stay healthy.”
What types of concessions or creative adjustments to your pre-season precision support and education have you made at your dealership? Share your comments with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.