2019 Precision Farming Dealer Benchmark Study
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Jack Zemlicka, Technology Editor
Precision Farming Dealer's Day in the Cab series is a first-person account of a day in the life of a precision farming specialist, from when the alarm clock rings to the last customer service call of the day.
No two days are the same and this regular feature offers an intimate look at how precision specialists navigate and adapt their daily objectives, to be productive and profitable for their dealership.
The market share realities and logistical hurdles a single-store mainline farm equipment dealership must clear to compete in an era of consolidation are real.
But for more than 70 years, Eis Implement, a John Deere dealership in Two Rivers, Wis., has thrived on its product diversity, customer service and progressive business philosophy.
These attributes extend to the dealership’s 2-person precision farming team, led by Eric Hagenow, who joined Eis in 2014 after working as precision salesperson and a service technician at two other dealerships. The well-rounded professional experience has served him well, as Eric if often called on to troubleshoot both mechanical and technological problems for customers.
Having met Eric at the 2019 Precision Farming Dealer Summit, I was looking forward to the opportunity to ride along with him for our 11th installment of the Day in the Cab series. Throughout our nearly 11-hour day, we spent time cultivating new customer relationships, as well as strengthening existing ones with a series of on-farm visits and nearly two dozen phone conversations.
Anticipating for unplanned service calls and embracing on-the-go solutions proved to be two essential qualities for Lanty “Spud” Armstrong, precision farming manager for Ag Technologies in Rochester, Ind., during our 10-hour ride-a-long adventure with several twists and turns along the way.
Prior to his current role, which he has held for the past 8 years, Spud worked as a service technician at New Holland Rochester for 6 years; a dealership that shares on the same lot as Ag Technologies (a standalone precision-focused spin-off business of the New Holland store). In that time, he mastered the mechanical background of equipment while also building strong customer relationships which he maintains today.
Our 11th installation of the Day in the Cab series highlights several “offseason,” yet essential jobs to tackle, including a malfunctioning sprayer as farmers rush to finish fall burndown and the installation of an RTK base station as New Holland aims to expand its data prescription offerings.
Chaos is common during spring planting, and precision farming specialists are tasked with responding to technology emergencies, while also creating valuable in-season touch points with customers.
Innovation and creativity can go a long way in maintaining your sanity during peak service seasons, lessons learned during my latest day-long adventure with Devyn Van Camp, Integrated Solutions consultant with Riesterer & Schnell.
Having cut his precision teeth at 2 dealerships prior to joining the 12-store John Deere dealership serving central Wisconsin, Van Camp had developed diverse experience, not only with troubleshooting different equipment brands, but also with cropping systems and both large- and small-scale customers.
Serving tech-hungry 20,000-30,000 acre potato and specialty crop operations to considerably smaller, less advanced dairy or corn and soybean farms, Van Camp thrives on the diversity and service challenges that come with each customer.
“One of the biggest things I like about where I’m at is the variety,” he says. “In the morning, I’ll be at a corn and soybean farm, then to a vegetable customer and then a commercial potato grower. This year, I’ll have yield mapping on pickles, which is new, but I also have some dairy customers, so it’s a very diverse experience.”
This, our tenth installment of the Day in the Cab series, highlighted the ebb and flow of the stress and satisfaction that comes from keeping customers satisfied during a stressful time of year. From taking a triage approach to troubleshooting technology issues, to making time for on-farm pop-ins, Van Camp’s measured and methodical approach translated to a productive day in the cab.
Building a precision faming dealership — essentially from scratch — is a daunting task, especially in an area where competition is fierce and farm customers tend to be tech-savvy.
But this is the path Pete Youngblut took, starting Youngblut Ag in Dysart, Iowa, 5 years ago. It was a natural progression for Pete, who cut his teeth as a software support specialist for Ag Leader Technology after graduating from Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo, Iowa.
During our day in the cab, Pete was comfortable, yet cautious in his ownership role — willing to leverage his freedom and flexibility to attract and retain customers. But this didn’t come with a “corner-cutting” philosophy to turn a quick service dollar.
Many dealerships have seen at least a slowdown in precision business during the last few years, in some cases allowing for companies to regroup and reset. That hasn’t been the case for Swiderski Equipment, and more specifically, precision farming manager John Cooper.
Precision revenue has tripled to close to $1.5 million annually during the last 5 years at the 5 store New Holland & AGCO dealership based in Mosinee, Wis., challenging Cooper and his 3 person precision team to keep pace with seasonal demands.
This installment of our Day in the Cab series brought some seasonal challenges — both mechanical and technological — that Cooper negotiated with confidence. Whether pinpointing a problematic harness, taking time to talk through a monitor setup on the phone or improvise a secure way to install a planter monitoring system, Cooper maintained stamina and poise throughout our 12 hour day in the cab.
No two days are ever the same, and riding along with Layne Richins, precision ag manager with Stotz Equipment for this installment of Day in the Cab, provided the most unique experience to date.
The John Deere dealership group operates 25 stores throughout Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Layne started as a mechanic 14 years ago and gradually added more precision farming service responsibilities as the dealership developed this side of the business.
Multitasking was the name of the game while riding along with Nathan Zimmerman, precision farming manager for A.C. McCartney for this Day in Cab profile.
With the sun finally breaking winter’s gloom and temperatures in the mid-60s, spring had taken root in northern Illinois, making area farmers anxious to get in the field. As farmers dusted off their planters, it quickly became clear that a large portion of Nathan’s job over the coming hours, and the following days, would be to help refresh customers’ memories on how to get their planting technology up and running.
Having shadowed several precision farming specialists from multi-store farm equipment dealerships for this series, I've come to appreciate the layered responsibilities that come with selling and supporting the technology of a major agricultural brand.
The ability to relate to farm customers, understand their concerns, patiently solve their problems and even share in their frustrations are traits that define a successful precision farming dealer. Riding along with Jason Pennycook, precision farming specialist with Johnson Tractor, it didn’t take long to realize he embodies the qualities and character of someone born to work in agriculture.
For this installment, I wanted to experience how an independent precision dealer navigates the landmines and celebrated the successes of an anything but typical workday on the cusp of planting season. So I made the 6 hour journey from southeastern Wisconsin to Reese, Mich., in mid-April where I rendezvoused with Mike Houghtaling, president of Precision & Concise Agricultural Solutions (P&C Ag Solutions).
Whether balancing 120-feet in the air to troubleshoot an RTK signal, demonstrating the tangible benefits of owning an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or tracking a customer down during harvest for a warranty claim signature, Matt Rohlik, Integrated Solutions Manager at Haug Implement was always on the go, with a goal of keeping customers satisfied and the dealership profitable.
One of the first precision specialists I had the chance to meet was Darin Kennelly with Birkey's Farm Stores, a Case IH dealership group in Illinois.
We’ve worked together on several occasions since that initial meeting, and I was thrilled to be able to spend an entire workday with him for this piece.
It’s one thing to spend time observing a yield monitor calibration or GPS display installation, and another to actually experience it.
This was my goal in spending a day with Phil Moskal, integrated solutions manager at Mid-State Equipment, a 7-store John Deere dealership network, based in Columbus, Wis.