With many North American dealers heading into the thick of spring planting, more than 9,000 miles away, dealerships in Australia are preparing customers for seeding crops ahead of winter.

Despite the geographical divide, both regions share business disruptions associated with COVID-19, including work-from-home orders and utilizing remote service platforms more regularly.

Relatively speaking, Australia hasn’t encountered the same spread of the infectious virus, with less than 7,000 total cases and declining numbers since the end of March. Still, coronavirus has compounded lingering challenges and closed borders between the country’s 5 states.

“We’ve encountered two years of drought, followed very shortly by some of the worst bush fires we’ve ever seen,” says Jason McNeice, precision farming specialist with Wideland Ag & Construction, a 5-store Case IH dealership based in the northeast state of Queensland.

Wideland’s customer base stretches across two states, which has required technicians and specialists to request permission to cross borders. While interstate travel isn’t recommended, McNeice says the need has been eased by more frequent use of remote service tools like AgriSync and TeamViewer.

“It’s been a perfect time to utilize these remote service platforms more and change the mindset of our customers on the value they offer,” McNeice says. “We’ve communicated with customers that while we won’t be coming out to their farm, we can still problem-solve their technology needs, but that there will still be a cost to doing that.”

Still, McNeice says he has conversations with customers who question getting a $25 bill for a 5-minute call. But he sees opportunity, out of the pandemic, to make remote service billing more mainstream.

Supply & Demand 

In South Australia, Michael Hadley, precision ag specialist with Ramsey Bros., a 6-store Case IH dealership, has seen more staggered support from OEMs and some delay in sourcing parts.

“We’re used to getting in-field support from our OEMs and we’re just not seeing that because of the travel restrictions,” he says. “Sometimes sales managers from the OEMs would come out and visit with customers to support sale of the product, but that’s not happening anymore.”

Remote support from product representatives has helped, but Hadley says a greater challenge has been stocking parts in a timely manner. Some OEM parts have been redirected to other countries and the dealership is seeing lead times on parts as much as triple.

“We know it’s probably going to be at least a 4-week wait for the OEM to get product on their shelves and then another 2 weeks for it to get to us, so we’re selling product that is 6-weeks out from arriving. Whereas it typically would only take a couple weeks, at most,” Hadley says. “We were also having an issue with a third-party precision component causing an issue in a new tractor and to get it diagnosed and fixed, we actually ended up shipping a new tractor to the manufacturer so they could figure it out.”

McNeice is experiencing similar challenges, with overseas parts orders taking about a month to arrive. Antenna cables or non-genuine parts source from China have been almost impossible to acquire.

“We’ve gone back to manufacturing our own antenna cables or wiring harnesses for customers which we can’t get in a timely manner or at all right now,” McNeice says. “New installations are maybe getting pushed out a week, but we’ve been able to meet customer needs and maintain a high-level of service.”

With some farmers in the region starting to plant winter wheat and barley for the first time in 2 years due to extreme drought and bush fires, McNeice says training has been in high demand.

“Making sure customers’ equipment is ready to plant in a timely manner is critical and for some, they may not have turned a tractor wheel in 12 months,” McNeice says.