This time of year, it’s a long shot to find precision farming dealers at their desks. Most spend their days on the road or in the field, working with customers to set up their yield monitors or making sure their guidance technology is up to date.
So I was fortunate to be able to catch-up with a few precision specialists on the cusp of harvest during a trip through south central Wisconsin at the end of September.
Combines are just beginning to roll in the area and as one specialist told me, being proactive with service is the best way to minimize the pressure of getting customers’ problems solved during harvest.
An increasing number of dealers are hosting pre-season combine clinics to include a refresher course on maintaining or updating technology needed during harvest, or reminding customers during summer to calibrate their yield monitors and clear off last year’s data.
But these efforts only go so far in reducing the volume of calls precision specialists field in fall — especially if customers aren’t being charged for service. This is a predicament many precision dealers find themselves in, not only during harvest.
“Most of my time is on the road trying to get that revenue recouped for all my time. This is what we’re really working for,” says one precision specialist in Wisconsin. “As the boss says, the precision farming department isn’t a necessary evil, it’s a department that has some value to it.”
Tapping into that value — beyond selling hardware — is something that dealers continue to wrestle with, but more are exploring precision service plans to try and generate revenue.
This is still a touchy subject for some dealers, who acknowledge the friction that charging for phone support or printing yield maps can create between a customer and the dealership. One dealer in Wisconsin says they had a low take rate on their first service plan offering and are now in the process of tweaking the options for customers to make it an easier sell.
But service plans are also a shift for precision specialists who had been accustomed to picking up the phone or stopping by the farm to answer a customer’s question, without giving much thought to logging the time.
“We have to start physically billing people for the time we’re out there and once they start seeing how those costs add up, the service package will look a whole lot nicer because they’ll get more for their money,” the precision specialist in Wisconsin says.
Ahead of harvest, his dealership offers a combine yield monitor calibration plan that covers software updates, display configuration, distance and guidance calibration and a customer training session. Annual cost is $345 for one crop an additional $175 for each additional crop.
Although some customers may balk at the upfront cost, dealers say service packages will build in flexibility for specialists to make sure customers are ready to roll well ahead of harvest by taking care of technology maintenance during the off-season.
This doesn’t mean fall will be any less hectic for precision dealers, but at least their time on the road and in the field could be better spent generating income for the dealership.