Ever since our farmer subscribers (mostly from our 41-year-old No-Till Farmer publication) heard we publish a magazine for equipment dealers, they’ve shown an eagerness to talk "dealer" matters. At the last 8 National No-Tillage Conferences we hold each January, farmers have cornered me to talk and, more often than not, get something off their chest. And I'm all ears, as these exchanges sometimes reveal an article idea worth pursuing to help you, the dealer, address their changing needs and expectations.
It was the dealer's limitations in the precision farming area that ruled the dialog at this year's event in St. Louis. Many farmers were encouraged to hear we were launching Precision Farming Dealer (a single-topic electronic-publication exclusively for dealers) to share best practices. They too see an informational void that needs filling.
It was for this new e-publication that we approached a sample of our farmer audience in late March with questions on their dealer’s performance on precision farming/electronics. Full disclosure: expecting a farmer to objectively grade his equipment dealer's service is akin to Chef Emeril Lagasse ranking ballpark hotdogs. But you can't learn if you don't ask, right?
We're unable to share everything we collected here, so watch upcoming editions of Precision Farming Dealer for more on farmers' most commonly-cited problems, as well as their needs in after-sale support and training. But here are some initial observations from the survey.
On a scale of 1-10, the average grade of the dealership's precision farming knowledge level fell right in the middle (5.84). Take away some of the low-scale outliers, however, and you find many farmers actually cite a high level of expertise at the dealership. But the problem, and it's a big one, is that this knowledge tends to reside in just one person's head at the dealership.
When farmers are out in the fields and need help, that specialist can't be found because he's busy with a long line of other growers. In other words, that specialist'’s knowledge hasn't been transferred to other dealer personnel, if others even exist to receive that direction.
Farmers' list of frustrations run deep, but not all are cranium-benders. Instead, most relate to an absence of training and, to a larger degree, to the quantity of able-bodied support. Simply put, farmers need more specialists at your dealership who can understand (and anticipate) problems, be available for their call, and quickly troubleshoot to keep them going.
These farmers are sympathetic to your challenge of finding (and paying for) high-tech expertise who also understand cropping practices. But that isn't to say they'll give you a free pass for subpar service.
Some good news? These farmers realize that, unlike other repairs, they can't rely on the dealership 100% when it comes to the electronics side. They are asking YOU to provide training to them so they can take care of some things themselves.
Many of you are at a crossroads ... Invest in staff numbers with the skills to make precision farming a legitimate part of your service offering. Subcontract to a local firm that can deliver that expertise to your customers. Or, surrender these services to other resellers. As is clear in the farmers' responses, doing nothing — or just going through the motions — can result in a lost customer.
Another thing to consider: some precision farming suppliers are questioning whether to continue investing in the traditional iron-peddling channel vs. a dedicated precision-farming reseller model. If you don’t want to yield your turf to others, there are heady decisions to make.
Through Precision Farming Dealer, we’ll do our best to help you sort it out by sharing how other equipment dealers are moving their customers forward.