Not only did Farm Equipment editors carry out their traditional duties of digging for the newest and most innovative products at this year’s Farm Progress Show, but this time we dug a little deeper. This year we spent additional time with exhibitors to get their take on what’s driving new equipment designs and developments and how they’re responding to what they’re hearing from their dealers and customers.
Interspersed with our traditional coverage of the cutting-edge equipment we saw at the show this year are comments from the many manufacturers we visited.
You can also find more product coverage and manufacturer commentary at www.Farm-Equipment.com. We also invite readers’ feedback on this report.
Kevin Covey, General Manger, Product Support, Equipment Technologies
“Chemical resistant weeds would certainly be one of the major things we’re tackling. As more and more weeds are becoming more chemical resistant, growers have had to change up their spray mixtures and when they spray. We brought a couple of things to market this year to help address this. One of them is a chemical injection option that allows growers to carry a specialized product to hit those Roundup resistant or chemical resistant weeds with a little different product mixture than he would normally carry. Another thing is the Raven Hawkeye control system. It atomizes the spray a little more, which helps control drift. It also provides turn compensation. Typically, the outside of the boom is not spraying at the same rate as the inside of the boom when making a turn. This helps provide the same coverage over the whole length of the boom. That really helps combat the weed and insect problems.
“One of the other things we’ve had growers asking for is stainless steel boom pipe. So this year we brought our own stainless steel boom plumbing to the market. It lasts longer and it’s a little more chemical resistant. It’s also lighter, and there’s been an ongoing interest for a while now in lighter equipment and being more nimble in the field.
“We already build a pretty light sprayer to begin with, but now we’re offering a 100 foot aluminum boom as an option that weighs half of what our steel boom weighs. That allows us to shave a little more than a ton off the overall weight, and alleviate some of the compaction issues.”
Kevin Marshall, Vice President, Sales & Product, Hagie
Nitrogen management. “Hagie hasn’t really put innovation on hold per say, but it’s almost like the industry has kind of caught up to us. A perfect example is the nitrogen toolbar. Ours was a sidedress late-season concept that we developed for the market in 2004. It was built as a rescue tool, so as the weather conditions would change, someone would see the need for late-season nitrogen, so we provided this tool that would allow the customer go out and rescue that crop.
“What’s changed is instead of all the nitrogen being pre-applied, now there’s an actual nitrogen management plan that incorporates late-season sidedress. So it’s not that we’re not looking at it, but it’s almost like the industry is now starting to trend toward what we were already doing.”
Putting data to use. “Another thing is growers asking for imagery and application map, and variable-rate. The machines are capable of doing that. It’s the same application used with planters, so planters can do variable-rate, they can do multiple hybrids. We can do multiple products. We developed those technologies, but what the customers are missing is how to write the prescriptions. They have the tools to do it, but who writes that prescription? Things other industries are doing and how they use data to make the decisions is being applied and we’re using some of those things to adjust how fast the machines need to be and how finite the boom sections need to be.”
Testing cover crops. “Progressive, smaller producers — 2,000 or 2,500 acres — have taken to cover crops first. I think its easier for them to incorporate another pass or different practice. Larger producers are nervous about the time it’s going to take because another pass means more expense. That’s a concern we might have. I think the larger producers are going to need to see the benefits, a ROI, before they incorporate it into their operations. From a revenue generation standpoint, I think it’s going to take 3 or 4 years to start to see cover crops take hold. They’re going to want to see the data and the things universities and smaller producers are doing before they jump on board.”
Todd Stucke, Kubota, Senior Vice President, Sales, Marketing & Product Support
Technology drives value. “What we’re seeing is the expansion of technology and how it’s being implemented in all of the farming processes. Then we have to ask ourselves, how can that technology drive true value for the customer? I was at the Case IH lot and saw the autonomous tractor and that’s maybe out there a little bit, but the facts are over 80% of the tractors in the Midwest are steered with auto-steer. But what is the next auto-steer out there? And that’s a trend that’s coming and how can that trend drive value for the customer? And what is the cost to get the value?
“For example, on my personal farm the first auto-steer system we bought, we spent $100,000. That’s a lot of money to spend on our farm, but now the satellite goes down and my brother calls me and says I cant work because the satellite is down. And I say, what the heck did you do when you didn’t have the auto-steer? Once you get the technology, you become addicted to it and reliant on it and so forth.
“So as a company we have to ask ourselves how do we harness that technology to drive true value to the end customer. I think this is a trend that we want to really study and make sure we do it right. The farm and equipment industry will move slower than say smartphones, but that technology is out there. We don’t know the value. We know the value of more horsepower, more gears, more traction and less compaction. We know all that, but we don’t know how we can harness autonomous technology. It’s not imbedded into our engineering resources, but it’s coming. If it’s offered, did would the customer base accept it? The point is, there are going to be certain applications where it will work and there’s other applications it wont work. So the adoption rate is going to vary.”
Managing cost control. “The second thing I see is in good times in general, when ag is making a lot of money, there’s a tendency to not be as concerned about cost control and efficiencies. In the tougher times, like we’re in now, there’s a big drive to really get more out of less. ‘How do I get more life out of my tractor?’ ‘How do I get more life out of my equipment?’ ‘Do I have the luxury to have 2 combines when I can really get it done with one?’
“When I grew up on our farm in the 1980s, we would harvest from September all the way to Thanksgiving. We had a 60 day window to harvest. Well now, if you don’t get the crop off in 30 days, everybody is freaking out. So is that going to drive some behavior toward those efficiencies? Hopefully the prices come back up and we’re not forced to do it, but in tough times you learn a lot about how to make it happen. I think we’re going to see some pressure from the customers who say, ‘How can you help me be profitable in this market?’ I think it’s going to be customer driven. How do we do it? Do we need to roll a combine every year? I think they’re going to start questioning everything and whoever brings them that value statement or the solutions, will not win but will have an edge over their competition. So it’s really value creation in a tough time and tough economy.
“That’s where you’re going to really find that the companies that have it are the ones that do not cut their engineering budget, do not cut their R&D and continue to invest in ways to drive value. It’s so much more important now to drive the value than it was when you’ve got $13 beans and $7 corn.”
Mike Cleveland, Vice President, Sales, Great Plains Mfg.
“There are no-tillers who are starting to go back to tillage. The definition of no-till is becoming very ‘gray.’ They’ll run the TurboMax to mix up the residue and then no-till in the spring. When we were doing corn-on-corn-on-corn, you had to do something to that residue because corn doesn’t like corn residue. So, we’re seeing a trend toward some tillage, but it’s not deep tillage.
“I’m also seeing a trend toward farmers owning their own fertilizing equipment. When you own the equipment yourself, you can control the timing and the rate and you can avoid paying the custom guy. We’re also seeing guys starting to do 2 applications. There’s also a movement toward cover crops, but it’s not going as quickly as it should. We see growers going toward bigger tillage tools and a smaller cover crop seeders.”
Nick Jensen, President, Thurston Manufacturing Co.
Farmers’ openness to change. “Interest in strip-till took a down turn when we had $7 corn. A lot of farmers were just trying to grow as many bushels as possible because of the high prices. They weren’t focused on efficiency or decent management practices at that time. It was, ‘Let’s make this money while this corn is up and the price is good.’
“At lower corn prices, more guys are focusing on efficiency, whether it’s reducing the number of passes or putting fertilizer in the ground right where the roots can find it. We see growers coming back to the idea that strip-till is going to be a part of the solution. More people are starting to go toward strip-till or no-till to conserve fuel, but also because it’s a good stewardship and good land management practice.”
More regulations. “There are things hanging in the balance out there in terms of government regulations — watershed and EPA — that could change the ways people apply fertilizer or till. An example is the 3 counties here in central Iowa that are being sued by the city of Des Moines over nitrates in the water. If we don’t start to self-regulate our management practices with fertilizer injection and strip-till type banding, we’re going to see things through the legislative and legal processes that we won’t like. I think we’re going to see a lot more strip-till being practiced, particularly in the next 3, 5 and 10 years due to the regulative and environmental aspects.”
Designing for efficiency. “The trend that is pushing our innovation in fertilizer application is the customers’ continued need for increased efficiency and more acres per hour. Minimizing operator fatigue is another area. Differences in changes in design from 2016 vs. 2014 include our focus on conveniences for the operator, which again leads to greater efficiency. Smaller transport widths or something in the way of creature comforts — those are things we’re designing into our machines to make it easier and faster for the customer to hook up, go to the field and be done.”
R&D philosophies in soft economy. “Our philosophy is to first, talk to growers, but also dealers and distributors about the needs they see in the market. Knowing what’s important to the customer is critical to increase our chances of hitting the design right the first time. That’s how we get to market faster — hitting it right the first time out. If we do that, then through our finite element analysis (FEA) software our engineers can identify potential weaknesses before we even build the first machine.
“We’ve always tried to do more innovation in tougher ag economies than when it’s booming. If the product is innovative and meets a direct need, a guy will take a real look at it, even in a tough economy. We’re much better off if we continue to innovate and do more of it than if we put the brakes on things and wait for things to improve.”
Jaime Meier, Ag Division Sales Manager, Landoll
“We’re hearing a lot these days about Roundup resistance and weed pressures. There seems to be a move toward using tillage to handle weeds and not just chemicals. I’ve been talking to one guy out in Nebraska who has been no-tilling for years. He has sprayed 5 times and the weeds are still out of control. So, we have to do something different. I’m sure they will be buying a finisher. There’s no silver bullet to farming. We’ve updated the finisher and it’s going to be a great tool to go out and kill weeds with. We also have a new disc with narrower spacing; 8.75 inches is standard and the new one is 7 inches. The tighter spacing will kill more weeds and will do it at a lower depth.”
Anthony Montag, Vice President, Montag Manufacturing
Increased fertility management. “In fertility, more isn’t necessarily better. Fertilizer costs a lot of money; it increases our risk and it gives ag a bad rap to the outside world. There are substantial cost advantages to managed fertility and banding. Yes, we’re talking about an increased management system, but, as I like to say, where in agriculture does increased management not pay? Look at your planter, does management pay? Yes. We’ve engaged and embraced the fact that increased management on the planter delivers results. Does it pay on a combine and sprayer? Yes. We make sure that everything’s in good shape, we set it and manage the things that are needed.
“It pays the same way in fertilizing applications. Just throwing it out there and hoping it works is not a plan. Let’s place that fertility precisely where the roots are going to be and feed the plant precisely what it needs.”