Since the editors of Farm Equipment and Ag Equipment Intelligence launched the first brand loyalty study of farm machinery in late 2010 and followed it up with subsequent studies in 2014 and 2017, the allegiance and positive perception that farmers held for “their brand” continually grew. In the first study, 63% of farmers considered themselves “brand loyal.” This improved in 2014 and 2017 to 69% and 75%, respectively.
This wasn’t the case in 2020 as overall brand loyalty to farm equipment took a major step back. The most recent survey of farmers in the same 12 states that were covered in the earlier studies indicates that only 63% of respondents would describe themselves as “brand loyal.” This is a 12% drop off in the past 3 years, which returns brand loyalty levels back to those seen in the first study, 10 years earlier.
There appears to be a myriad of reasons for the fall off, but it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific cause for this deterioration of brand loyalty. Maybe it’s the ongoing doldrums of agriculture that has resulted in low commodity prices and lower farm incomes. Maybe it’s the rising cost of new ag machinery. Maybe it’s the performance of equipment dealerships. Maybe it’s the advanced technology that has added to the cost of new equipment but isn’t being fully utilized.
The increased use of electronics and computerization of the equipment has set up battle lines between manufacturers and farmers when it comes to service and repair of their machinery. This probably hasn’t helped the relationship between manufacturers and their end-use customers who demand access, which would allow them or independent service providers (rather than dealerships) to work on their equipment. Referencing a specific manufacturer whose equipment he would not purchase, one farmer said, “[They] are currently taking farmers to court who dare to work on the tractors they own.”
The complete 2020 Brand Loyalty report is available from Ag Equipment Intelligence. It provides in-depth detail on farmers’ loyalty to the major brands, as well as a breakout of brand loyalty levels by farmers’ annual revenue. Please go to www.AgEquipmentIntelligence.com and click on Digital Editions and Special Reports.
In any case, each one or a combination of these factors were mentioned in the comments that farmers offered in the 2020 survey, which was conducted in late March and early April. Most likely the declining brand loyalty score is a reflection of one or more of these, as well as their overall frustration with the challenging conditions in agriculture in general that have lingered for 5 years or more.
One thing that hasn’t changed through all four brand loyalty surveys conducted so far is that dealers continue to play a pivotal role in establishing and building loyalty to the brands of equipment they represent. Of the top 5 factors that would cause a farmer to switch brands, the dealer is directly responsible for at least 3 of them: parts availability, repair service, technician specialists.
The one factor that the manufacturer has sole responsibility for when it comes to why a farmer would consider switching equipment brands is product engineering. According to the results of the 2020 Brand Loyalty study, the importance of pricing has become a bigger part of farmers’ purchasing decisions. This shouldn’t surprise anyone considering the prolonged slump in commodity prices and farmer income. And while the manufacturer establishes the base price of the machinery it produces, the dealer can also influence what the farmer is ultimately asked to pay for new ag equipment.
About the Study
For the record, 357 farmers responded to the 2020 survey compared to 274 in the 2017 study, both of which included growers in 3 U.S. agricultural regions and 12 states. These included: the Corn Belt (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri), Lake States (Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin) and Northern Plains (Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota).
The survey questions remained the same for each of the studies, but an additional question was included in the 2017 and 2020 surveys regarding the farmer’s annual revenue, which was broken down by those whose annual revenues were under $1 million and those with annual revenues over $1 million. Another question was added to the 2020 poll that asked farmers that if they were to consider switching brands, which of the other brands of tractor and/or combines would they look at first.
As for equipment brands covered in the survey, these have remained the same throughout all four surveys: AGCO (including Challenger and Massey Ferguson), Case IH, John Deere and New Holland. Kubota was included in the list of equipment brands that the farmers might consider if they were to switch brands.
Farmers were asked to identify the primary brand of tractors and combines they used on their farms. The breakdown of total responses were as follows: AGCO 9.2%; Case IH 32%; John Deere 52.4%; New Holland 4.2%; none of these 2.2%.
Brand Loyalty 2020 vs. 2017
The 12% drop in the overall brand loyalty score was the result of each of the four brands covered in the study scoring lower than they did 3 years ago. Of the four major equipment brands included, AGCO experienced the lowest drop off, losing 5% from its 2017 ranking. In 2017, 60% of farmers who identified themselves as using AGCO equipment said they were brand loyal. This slipped to 55% in the 2020 survey.
Of those producers who identified John Deere as their brand of choice, 77% said they were brand loyal in 2017. This fell 12%, to 65%, in the most recent study. Likewise, 3 years ago, of the farmers who said Case IH equipment was their major brand, 80% reported as brand loyal. This percentage declined to 67% in the 2020 survey.
New Holland took the biggest hit of all the major brands compared to the survey results from 3 years earlier. In 2017, of the growers who identified New Holland equipment as the primary equipment used in their farming operations, 63% reported being brand loyal. This time around, that score dropped 16% to 47% in 2020.
Changing Loyalty Levels
To further gauge how farmers view their primary brands of equipment, they were also asked to describe their feelings about their primary brand preference today vs. 5 years ago.
Generally, there isn’t a major difference about the way farmers view their principal equipment brands today compared to how they felt about them 5 years ago. Some 5% fewer farmers said they were significantly or somewhat “more” loyal to their brand today. This was the largest variance noted in the 2020 study. The variance for those feeling “less” loyal currently than they did 5 years ago was 2.8%. For those who feel “about the same” as they did about their equipment brand previously, the difference was 2.2%.
While a smaller percentage of the farmers polled generally would describe themselves as “brand loyal” vs. 3 years ago, the picture changes somewhat when they were asked about loyalty to their primary brand preference compared to 5 years ago. Some brands saw their standing improve, while others not so much. But, overall, the picture is a mixed one to say the least.
In the 2017 study, 17% of Case IH farmers said their loyalty to the preferred brand of farm machinery had “significantly” or “somewhat” increased compared to 5 years earlier, in the 2020 survey this improved to 21%. At the same time, only 14% said they were “significantly” or “somewhat” less loyal 5 years ago in the 2017 survey. This more than doubled to 29% reporting they are “significantly” or “somewhat” less loyal compared to 5 years ago.
A similar, but not quite as pronounced, shift can be seen in those farmers who named John Deere as their primary brand of equipment. While loyalty to green equipment improved from 21% in 2017 to 23% (combined “significantly” and “somewhat” more loyal), a larger percentage of John Deere farmers, 29%, reported being “significantly” and “somewhat” less loyal in 2020 compared to 23% in the previous study.
AGCO farmers also expressed a decline in their level of loyalty to their brand in 2020 vs. 2017. In the most recent survey, 12% of farmers indicated they are more loyal overall, which is down from 25% in 2017. However, the percentage of AGCO farmers reporting to be less loyal in 2020 (21%) actually improved from 24% in 2017.
New Holland farmers showed the largest overall discrepancies when it comes to loyalty levels in 2020 vs. 2017. In the previous study 3 years ago, 23% of New Holland farmers replied that they were more loyal to their brand compared to 5 years earlier, and 17% indicated they were less loyal. In the most recent study, those feeling more loyalty to the New Holland brand dropped to 7% in 2020, while the percentage of those indicating less loyalty rose to 20%.
In this case, it must be noted that responses from New Holland farmers represent a smaller sample than that of the other equipment brands. In the most recent survey, only 4.2% of total responses came from those identifying with New Holland equipment (5.8% of the total responses in 2017). This may be a result of the 12 states included in the survey, where row-crop production agriculture is dominant, or other factors could be in play. Regardless of the reasons for the smaller response from these growers, this should be considered in weighing the results of the survey.
Starting the Purchasing Process
Once the decision is made to replace, upgrade or add new ag machinery, how farmers commence the purchasing process can also reveal the depth of their loyalty to a particular brand.
If a farmer decides to “look around” rather than go directly to a dealership that carries the brand of equipment that they’ve preferred in the past, it may only be a case of curiosity or to keep their dealer honest. On the other hand, it could also be a sign of discontentment with either their preferred brand or possibly the dealership itself.
As in the previous brand loyalty surveys, farmers were also asked, “When you purchase new (not used) farm equipment, do you begin the process with the desire to purchase the same brand as your tractor/combine?”
The overall response to this question in the prior study (2017) indicated that a large majority of farmers (78%) considered their preferred brand first before looking at other equipment lines when they were shopping around for new equipment. In the study conducted earlier this year, that percentage dropped 11 points to two-thirds (67%) of total respondents who desire to look at their primary brands prior to looking at others.
And, as previously noted, the farmers’ response to this question varied by brand, in some cases dramatically, between 2017 and 2020 results.
The smallest change came with AGCO farmers. In 2017, 65% said they would first consider AGCO equipment when making an equipment purchase. Three years later, their responses dropped by only 1 point to 64%.
There was only a 3% decline for Case IH farmers in comparing responses to this question during the past 3 years. In 2017, 76% of growers who identified Case IH equipment as their primary brand said they would first look at Case IH products. Subsequently, responses to the 2020 study indicate that 73% of Case IH farmers would consider their preferred brand of machinery prior to shopping around.
John Deere farmers weren’t nearly as kind, and the percentage of those who identified as users of New Holland equipment expressed even less support for the brand of choice.
In the case of John Deere products, in 2017 its customers were easily the most rabid with 84% saying they would first look at green and yellow equipment before considering any other brand. For the 2020 survey, this dropped to 67%, the same as the overall average of all farmers participating in the study. This was a decline of 17% during the past 3 years.
New Holland-branded equipment fared even worse. In the survey conducted earlier this year, less than one-half (47%) of their farmers said they desire to look at New Holland products prior to considering other brands. This is down from 69% in the 2017 study; a 22% drop off.
Have Farmers Purchased ‘Other’ Equipment?
If farmers purchased equipment other than that manufactured by their primary brand in the last 5 years, what was it? The farmers surveyed were given 7 types of equipment typically used in row-crop operations and asked to indicate which ones they had purchased recently that were not the same brand as their preferred brand.
The two pieces of equipment that remain somewhat as “sacred cows” for most farmers in that they tend not to look to other brands include tractors and, even more so, combines.
Still, when it comes to tractors, 23% of farmers in the survey said they had purchased a different brand in the past 5 years. This is the same percentage seen in the 2017 survey. Only 12% of survey respondents reported that they had purchased a different brand of combine than that of their “primary brand” in recent years. In 2017, only 9% said they had switched brands when it came to combines.
The best shot that other manufacturers have when it comes to capturing sales from the major ag equipment manufacturers is with tillage tools. Nearly half (49%) of farmers polled said they acquired tillage tools that were not from their primary equipment brand. This is only 1% fewer than in 2017 when 50% of farmers indicated they had purchased tillage equipment produced by a different manufacturer.
Next on the list is precision farming systems/equipment. This is somewhat surprising considering the challenges that come with connectivity of different precision systems with various equipment brands. Nonetheless, nearly one-half (48%) of the respondents indicate that they have purchased this category of equipment from other sources rather than that of their preferred equipment manufacturer. This is up 16%, from 32% in the 2017 study.
Some 41% of farmers in this year’s poll reported having purchased a sprayer that was not from their primary equipment manufacturer. This is up from 32% in the study done 3 years earlier.
Other equipment purchased in the past 5 years that wasn’t the same color as that of the farmers’ primary brand included seeders/planters, with 40% acknowledging they purchased this equipment from another manufacturer. This is up 10% compared to the previous study when 30% indicated they had purchased a brand not matching their primary brand.
When it comes to haying equipment, a smaller percentage of farmers strayed from their primary brand of equipment. In the 2020 survey, 29% of farmers acquired a different brand of equipment, which was only 1% higher than the survey results from 3 years earlier.
Why Farmers Switch Brands
For most farmers, switching the brand of equipment they’ve grown accustomed to over the years is probably not a particularly easy decision. But the reasons they make the switch are pretty straight forward and have changed very little over the past 10 years that the ag equipment brand study has been conducted. In the survey, farmers were asked to rate 12 factors in terms of their potential to cause them to switch from their primary brand to another equipment line.
Throughout the history of the brand loyalty studies, better parts availability and better product engineering have ruled the roost for farmers and are the major reasons they would consider switching brands. And the equipment dealer can play a pivotal role in establishing and maintaining loyalty to an equipment brand.
In all likelihood, better parts availability has taken on additional importance in the current ag environment. As farmers hang on to their equipment longer than they might typically, the dealership’s parts and service capabilities take on increased importance. And farmers are demanding when it comes to their equipment and will always desire a better engineered product.
Lower equipment prices moved up from it number 5 spot 3 years ago to number 3 on farmers’ reasons to consider another brand of equipment. In terms of farmer comments, pricing was mentioned more than any other reason to switch to a different equipment brand. Typically, it has occupied the 5th or 6th slot in the rankings. Its jump to number 3 in the 2020 survey may be considered a significant shift in how farmers view their brand of machinery.
The 4th and 5th spots on the list of reasons farmers would switch equipment brands both focus directly on the dealership. Some 94% of growers ranked better dealer repair and service as reasons to check out other brands of ag machinery. And 92% of those polled ranked product specialists at the dealership as number 5 on their list of factors that would help them decide whether or not to stick to their current brand of equipment.
Farm Economy’s Role in Brand Loyalty
The past 5 years for agriculture have been marked by low commodity prices, growing foreign competition and rising input costs. The farmers who were polled for this study were asked: Considering the decline in commodity prices during the past few years, has your attitude toward equipment purchases changed in that you are more willing to consider other brands other than the one you would typically prefer?
In the 2017 study, slightly less than one-half (49%) of farmers said they would consider other equipment brands in the then current economy. As things have not gotten any better in the intervening years since the previous survey, so it’s not surprising that the percentage of farmers who would consider switching brands has risen to 54%.
One manufacturer told Ag Equipment Intelligence that their equipment in the field is the oldest it has been in 30 years by a factor of 2. It’s not expected to get much younger any time in the foreseeable future. Building customer loyalty during this period will be critical if manufacturers hope to grow their piece of the farm equipment business. With a younger generation of producers set to succeed the present generation, some believe that traditional loyalties to equipment colors will fade and become a fond memory. It will be value and service, regardless of brand color, that will build customer loyalty in the future.