I’ll sometimes ask precision farming experts and dealers to dust off their crystal ball and predict what the future holds for technology. Some are more confident prognosticators than others, but nobody I’ve talked with ever hints at a slowdown in the production or adoption of precision farming practices.
So it’s interesting to take a look at the results of the “2014 Dealer Business Outlook & Trends Farm Equipment Forecast” from Ag Equipment Intelligence, one of our sister publications. Now in its ninth year, the recently released survey takes a comprehensive look at the confidence and concerns farm equipment dealers have about the current and future market.
For the first time, GPS and precision farming products didn’t finish atop respondents’ list of ‘best bets’ for 2014, edged out slightly by lawn and garden equipment.
By no means does this suggest that dealers are abandoning technology.
In fact, the vast majority of respondents indicated that precision products remain a hot commodity for customers, with 44.1% projecting unit sales to increase by 2-7% (30.5%) or more than 8% (13.6%) in 2014. And when considered on a weighted average basis, precision products actually nab the top spot on the ‘best bets’ list.
But there are a few other precision farming percentages from the survey that caught my attention and are worth noting.
Many dealers I’ve talked with in the last six months have added precision staff or plan to in the near future. However, according to the survey, the percentage of dealers looking to add precision specialists is down 5% — from 28% this year to 23% in 2014.
This is interesting, especially since dealers often cite a shortage of qualified talent when looking to expand their precision farming interests. Even though colleges and universities are developing programs in this area, it’s going to take time to fill the precision pipeline.
More dealers may be looking internally to fill the void — training mechanics or service technicians as precision specialists — rather than search in vain on the open market.
It could also be that smaller dealerships are having a tougher time developing precision departments. According to the survey, dealerships with 40 or fewer employees are scaling back hiring of precision farming specialists in 2014.
Only 11.3% of dealers with 1-20 employees plan to add staff, compared to 17.1% in 2013. Similarly, 34.5% of dealers with 21-40 employees expect to hire precision specialists in 2014, compared to 41.4% this year.
On the other end of the spectrum, 2.1% of dealers with 1-20 employees say they plan to reduce or relocate staff in 2014, up from the 1.3% this year.
Meanwhile, larger dealers with 41 or more employees predict precision hiring growth in 2014. Dealers with 41-60 employees plan a 2.3% hiring increase and those with 61 or more employees expect a 3.5% increase over 2013.
Of course increasing or decreasing sales volume and customer demand could influence hiring trends not only in the next year, but further into the future. Dealers may want to keep those crystal balls handy.