Successfully selling strip-till equipment requires an intimate knowledge of the concept in order to explain the benefits of the machinery. “You have to know how a plant works. If you don’t understand the importance of even, young and fast emergence, you will struggle in strip-till,” says James Fehr, Jenner Sales Corp. Photo courtesy of Orthman Manufacturing.
In order to successfully sell customers on the value of strip-till, farm equipment dealers often need more than a smooth sales pitch to close a deal.
“You have to understand the agronomy of strip-till in order to sell the equipment. It’s way more than just iron,” says James Fehr, vice president of sales and marketing with Jenner Sales Corp. in Harristown, Ill. “You have to know how a plant works. If you don’t understand the importance of even, young and fast emergence, you will struggle in strip-till.”
Selling a Concept
Jenner, a Case IH dealer, primarily sells application equipment and added strip-till units in 2000. At the time, Fehr says the dealership was looking to add a “revolutionary” product and strip-till was starting to catch on in parts of Illinois and Indiana.
Sales started slow, so Fehr, an agronomist, took the approach of educating customers on the value of strip-till, rather than simply trying to sell a piece of equipment.
“When I start talking with a customer or retail fertilizer company, I’ll emphasize strip-till as a concept, because that’s what it is and where it starts before the iron,” he says. “Customers talk about that picket fence stand, which is important, but what’s more important is how that crop emerges.
“You can have perfect spacing, but if seeds don’t come up at about the same time, you are at a higher risk of having a weed vs. a productive plant.”
Understanding the logic behind strip-till is the basis for selling the equipment, Fehr says.
This is a sales philosophy Jerry Baysinger, owner of JBI Enterprises LLC in Bruning, Neb., endorses as well. When he started the single-location dealership 10 years ago, it served as a complement to his 3,000-acre farming operation.
“It was pretty much just me, but now we’ve got several bigger dealers that are into strip-till and they’ve got great equipment, but we still look at the basics with customers,” Baysinger says. “The water quality benefits and the soil quality benefits are the things we sell to the customer.
“The precise placement of nutrients has benefited my operation tremendously. My yields have improved over the years because of strip-till, so I take that experience and I relay that to the growers.”
Baysinger is a dealer for Yetter Co. and says he typically sells about 12 custom strip-till bars with Yetter row units each year. Business has been consistent throughout the years and drawing on his own experience as a strip-tiller allows Baysinger to distinguish himself from the competition, and also instill confidence in customers.
“Strip-till is expensive, but if I can save that customer $5 or $10 an acre in fertilizer costs by using less nitrogen, the savings add up...”
— Jerry Baysinger,
“Everything that I see in the field I share with my customers,” he says. “If they’re here to buy something, I won’t simply run through the benefits,” he says. “I want to tell them what I’ve experienced, how it’s benefitted me or hurt me, and that’s knowledge they get about the product before they even hit the field with it.”
Once customers embrace the concept, showing them the equipment at work is critical, Fehr says. Soon after Jenner began selling strip-till equipment, the dealership sponsored field demonstrations to showcase the products for customers.
“In 2002 and 2003, as soon as the wheat was harvested, we’d aggressively get out in June and July and perform demos in farmers’ fields,” Fehr says. “We had a lot of success with sales as a result, because we could tie in talking about the benefits of strip-tilling with showing customers why they wouldn’t be spending as much money running over the field with a cultivator or chisel plow.”
At Green Line Equipment in Grand Island, Neb., strip-till field days provide an opportunity for customers to ask questions not only of sales staff and producers, but the manufacturer as well.
A dealer for Orthman Manufacturing for 30 years, Green Line has seen consistent sales growth of strip-till equipment, especially in recent years, according to salesperson Justin Cure.
“Our sales volume for strip-till has increased by about 25% every year for the last few years,” he says. “Field days are a big part of that because we’ll run the equipment so customers can see the before and the after effects in the field, and also get a hands-on experience before they decide to make a purchase.”
• Understand and relay the concept of strip-till before selling the equipment to customers.
• Demonstrate the benefits through field days with experienced strip-tillers and give customers a hands-on experience prior to purchase.
• Do your homework and provide specific benefits such as improved soil health and lower input costs to drive home a sale.
Green Line is an eight-store network of John Deere dealerships in Nebraska, and Cure says they will try to hold local strip-till field events to draw customers from different areas of the state. Strip-till has a growing presence in Nebraska, and Cure says the dealership typically partners with an experienced strip-tiller to host the demonstration and answer questions.
“We find someone who is comfortable with the equipment and with us coming to their farm,” Cure says. “Having that experienced strip-tiller who’s had success with the equipment also helps with word-of-mouth sales and promoting the product.”
Baysinger will often field test equipment on his own farm before selling it. This gives him an opportunity to fine-tune or customize an attachment or row unit before offering it to customers.
He also custom-builds toolbars to accommodate different sized units that customers want. With strip-till, Baysinger says, there is no ‘one-size fits-all’ solution and flexibility as a dealer to offer the right solution to a customer is key.
One of the first questions Baysinger asks is what size and type equipment a farmer has, including tractor horsepower, so he can figure out the best strip-till setup. The larger the strip-till unit, the higher-horsepower tractor it’s going to take to pull the machine.
“We’ve got some customers now that are 36-row planters, but they can’t have a 36-row strip-till bar, that’s just too big and heavy,” he says. “But we’ve done some 18-row and I’ve even got one customer that’s 10-row, because for his tractor horsepower requirement, that’s where he was going to get the most benefit.”
Obstacles to Adoption
Although strip-till units can be modified to suit a farmer’s operation, Baysinger acknowledges that sometimes it’s simply not a good fit with their farm.
“I emphasize strip-till as a concept, because that’s what it is and where it starts before the iron…”
— James Fehr,
Jenner Sales Corp.
Forcing a sale won’t do the farmer any good and could also tarnish the reputation of the dealer.
“There have been times where after learning about a customer’s operation, I just don’t have a product that will work,” Baysinger says. “There are some farmers that are in the dry land areas where maybe strip-till is a risk.
“If they strip-till and they don’t get rain, it’s going to be a problem. Not every situation is ideal for strip-till.”
Even if farmers haven’t seen strip-till equipment in the field, most tend to have an idea about what they want to do when they walk into the store, Cure says.
But cost can still be a hurdle. Green Line markets its 12-row strip-till rigs for about $70,000, and Cure says it’s a matter of knowing the customer’s operation well enough to be able to adapt the unit to get farmers the most bang for their buck.
“A lot of times, we’ll use soil condition as a sales point. If they are from a sandy area, we’ll push them toward one product. If it’s a darker, thicker soil type, we might shift them to another product that has different functionality for those soil types,” Cure says. “Some guys want to put on fertilizer with the unit and some guys want to put on two different types of fertilizer and dry fertilizer with the unit.
“So, it just depends on what they are looking for. You have to give them what they want.”
While some customers may have an idea about what they want to accomplish with strip-till before they even talk to a salesperson, that isn’t always the case.
Finding the best candidates for strip-till can go a long way toward making a sale, says Fehr.
“We target the customer who’s got a farmer dad getting close to retirement, and the son taking over the operation can’t afford to replace his dad,” he says. “Strip-tilling in fall takes the pressure off farmers in the spring, because they don’t have to worry about leveling the ground. They just need to plant in spring.”
Customers with marginal soil quality are also good candidates for strip-till because the equipment can help place nutrients more precisely and increase yield.
“One customer said his soil was so poor in a field that after he strip-tilled it, he saw a 25 bushel per-acre increase in corn,” Cure says. “That’s a pretty good testimonial to have from a customer.”
Given that strip-till requires an investment of time and money from farmers, when it comes to explaining the benefits, the more specific a dealer can get, the better.
“One customer said his soil was so poor in a field that after he strip-tilled it, he
saw a 25 bushel per-acre
increase in corn...”
— Justin Cure,
Green Line Equipment
“Bullet points” are a good start, says Baysinger. But supporting those points with cost savings can drive home a sale.
One scenario Baysinger uses to frame the investment vs. payback of strip-till for farmers is how the practice can cut nitrogen costs and increase yields.
“One thing some farmers don’t realize is that strip-till can actually help reduce fertilizer use because you’re placing it precisely. That’s one thing I really try to emphasize,” he says. “With nitrogen ammonia at $0.50 per pound across 2,000 acres, a customer can save quite a bit by using 10-20 pounds less per acre.
“Strip-till is expensive, but if I can save that customer $5 or $10 an acre in fertilizer costs by using less nitrogen, the savings add up.”
In addition to saving money on fertilizer, Baysinger emphasizes the importance of making every seed county for customers, and how strip-till can do that for them. Before the combine goes into the field, establishing a good stand is critical, he says.
“With seed corn costs at $302 per bag, it’s important to make sure every seed comes up,” Baysinger says. “If I can show customers that strip-till can make sure those seeds emerge and then precisely place nutrients to help that plant grow, it’s going to be beneficial and they’ll see that improvement through better yields.”
300 Bushel Corn?
Reducing input costs and maximizing seed are key benefits in strip-till, but boosting yield is the end goal.
Making sure customers understand how they can achieve this is critical, dealers say.
Baysinger ties in the yield boost that customers could see by placing nitrogen more accurately, and the benefits of preparing a nutrient-rich seedbed that will dry out faster and be ready for planting. Customers have told Baysinger they see better corn plant stands with strip-till, which in turn leads to better yields and increased profits.
“Customers might be gaining another 5 bushels per acre, so that could be as much as $50 per acre on top of the savings,” he says. “When you can get customers to understand those things, then they realize it doesn’t take too long to pay for that strip-till equipment.”
One of the pointed questions Fehr poses to customers is, “What is your greatest limitation to producing 300 bushel per acre corn?” A common response is poor emergence or crops not getting enough nutrients.
“A lot of times, it’s how farmers handle residue. Customers need to understand that it’s not trash, it’s there to help hold moisture,” he says. “I’ll explain that residue is a positive thing if it’s managed properly, and strip-till equipment helps preserve moisture, improve soil health and control weeds, all of which can lead to higher yields for farmers.”
Dealers see a bright future for strip-till sales, especially for those who have been successful conveying the conservation benefits of the practice.
With some areas already regulating water use and fertilizer application, Fehr says preserving nutrients and finding ways to enhance soil health will become increasingly important in the future.
“The number one driver of strip-till is going to be environmental stewardship,” he says. “Every seed and plant counts and we’ve been able to show customers how strip-till can get them where they want to be.”
“That’s going to continue and there’s opportunity for dealers who understand how to sell the concept, rather than just the equipment.”