Nearly one-third of the arable land in one of JayDee AgTech’s sales region is farmed by Hutterites, a religious group whose members live in self-sufficient agrarian communes. They raise grain and may also have hog, dairy and poultry operations.
“Some of our suppliers want to see the Hutterites as a different segment of customers, but in many ways they’re no different than any of our other farmers,” says Art Ward, regional sales manager, Region 1, JayDee AgTech, Swift Current, Sask. “They don’t want to be treated differently, either. They want to be seen as any other producer.”
Organized much like a corporate farm, a Hutterite colony will buy and maintain large fleets of the latest farm equipment. However, getting their business can pose some unique challenges for dealers.
Each Hutterite colony is comprised of 50-200 people who do not own anything independently. The colony provides everything the residents require, such as food and farm equipment.
Hutterites trace their roots to the Radical Reformation of 16th-century Europe, which also gave rise to the Mennonites and Amish. Although permitted to use modern technology, Hutterites have traditionally banned television and radio to keep the outside world at bay. Today, however, many use mobile phones and the Internet for business purposes.
Hutterites are generally divided into one of three groups with colonies in the U.S. and Canada. The Lehrerleut and the Dariusleut are mainly in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia as well as Montana and Washington. The Schmiedeleut are primarily in Manitoba, North and South Dakota and Minnesota.
Canada is home to the largest population, with around 35,000 living in more than 300 colonies. JayDee AgTech’s Region 1 (which includes dealerships in the communities of Kindersley, Leader, Kyle, Maple Creek and Swift Current) is surrounded by more than 90% of Saskatchewan’s Hutterite population. The Spring Creek Colony near Maple Creek is the largest in terms of land, with more than 35,000 acres.
Because of the size and the communal aspect of the farm operation, “they’re a large buying group,” says Ward.
One of the challenges in selling equipment to the group is stocking enough machines to support their buying cycles, he says. “Hutterites wait to see how the crop is doing before buying the equipment they’ll need. Then they’ll walk into the dealership in July and want 16 combines. As a dealership, we can’t do business that way — by then we’re normally sold out of them.”
Each colony is run by a minister and a secretary, who oversee what is essentially a corporate structure — the term “boss” is widely used. “Under them is a farm boss and each of the other divisions will have a man focused on that particular part of the colony,” says Ward. “These bosses are generally the older men in the colony. They form the equivalent of a board of directors for voting on an equipment acquisition or other matters. They tell us the votes are completely democratic, and every male over 14 can vote. Ultimately, though, if the boss says ‘we’re buying this combine’ everyone votes the way he says.”
In the past, JayDee AgTech has held focus groups to learn how to better work with Hutterite colonies in its area. They’ve helped understand their buying cycle, but it’s difficult to stock enough combines to support them. With Hutterite colonies expanding throughout Canada, it’s a challenge for which JayDee AgTech will continue to seek solutions.