There’s a distinct difference in mowers and mower-conditioners. Knowing what the individual hay producer needs to accomplish is key to guiding his purchase.
The hay business hasn’t been the same since disc mowers began replacing sickle bars. And depending upon what kind of hay and forage is being grown in a given area, implement dealers can bale some sizeable benefits as they guide customers in deciding what they need to make quality hay.
Mower-conditioners fall into one of two categories: flail conditoners and roller conditioners. Flail conditioners are popular where the crop is composed of grasses and stems. Roller conditioners actually crimp the plant material — crushing the cell walls to allow drying, rather than rupturing or tearing the stems. Photo courtesy of AGCO
Conversations with a handful of dealers across the country show growing customer interest in new mowers, and the decision on whether to add a conditioner to help with windrow formation and dry-down is affected heavily by the end-use of the forage at hand.
In dairy country, where top feed quality and hay harvest timing is of prime importance, customers bite the bullet for conditioners — both flail and rollers. Between the two, roller conditioners are the overwhelming favorite of those putting up hay for top-producing dairies.
Where grass hay is prevalent and cattle are food rather than milk producers, dealers indicate many customers opt for mowers alone.
In all cases, however, sales and repeat sales depend upon “getting into the customer’s head” and meeting his or her needs with equipment that is reliable, easy to use, and backed with dependable service and parts availability. “Seat time” before the sale is important, too, as all of the dealers Farm Equipment spoke with emphasized the necessity of demonstrations and having equipment ready to run, first-hand, on a customer’s meadow.
The following dealers helped compile a list of questions they believe are important to ask before breaking out the brochures or kicking tires: Rob Badger, SEMA, Plainview, Minn.; Garrett Lindstrom, Lindstrom Equipment, Menomonie, Wis.; Delbert Sprecher, McFarlanes, Sauk City, Wis.; Steve Lowe, Lowe Tractor, Henderson, Tex.; and Ray Beck, Beck’s Farm Equipment, Guthrie, Okla.
Ask the Right Questions
These dealers say the answers to several specific questions are a must before you can intelligently guide customers to the best equipment choices for their needs.
“Get them in a machine and show them what it will do. Let them run it on corners and hillsides...”
— Rob Badger
In some cases, they say the questions will lead the customer to realize there’s a need for more iron than they originally thought — always good for a dealer’s bottom line.
It was such questions that enabled Steve Lowe, who sells 20-25 3-point and trailed mowers a year near Henderson, Tex., an area moving from traditional dairy to beef production, to help a beef producer set up his own hay operation.
“The customer has just under 100 acres of bermudagrass and had been using custom operators. He was getting only one cutting a year because of the difficulty scheduling custom cutters on a timely basis.
“We took a trailed mower out to his place, showed him how to use it and how easy it was to hook up and operate. He was tickled to death with it,” Lowe explains.
“He bought a mower, a baler and a rake. He had the tractor, but he spent a lot of money to keep from having to wait on custom cutters. Now, he’s getting up to three cuttings a year and can time his harvest for top quality. Essentially, we put him into the hay business on his own place.”
Not All Mo-Cos are the Same
Mower-conditioners generally fall into one of two categories: flail conditoners and roller conditioners.
Flail conditioners process forage by beating it against steel “V”-shaped fingers and the body of the mower conditioner. The mechanical flailing action breaks stems and strips natural waxy cuticle from the plant material, enabling the forage to lose moisture more quickly for “dry down” and baling. Flail conditioners are popular where the crop is composed of grasses and stems, rather than in areas where top quality leafy alfalfa forage is grown.
Roller conditioners process cut forage through opposing rolls that have raised, interlocking chevron patterns. The rollers run on steel shafts and actually crimp the plant material — crushing the cell walls to allow drying, rather than rupturing or tearing the stems. Rollers conditioners are far more gentle with a leafy crop such as alfalfa. Rubber rollers are significantly more gentle on hay than steel, therefore they are preferred by many producers in dairy country where top-quality alfalfa forage is vital to animal nutrition.
Lowe emphasizes this kind of sale wouldn’t have happened without the field demonstration of the actual equipment, and the dealer/customer relationship that fostered the customer’s comfort level with the equipment. “You have to get them comfortable with the equipment, otherwise they’ll be frustrated and dissatisfied and that doesn’t lead to repeat business.”
Lowe takes the “seat time” factor even further with at least one hay demonstration in his area per year. “We take a baler or a cutter to a customer’s farm and invite other potential customers and visit with our factory marketing representative. We feed them a BBQ sandwich and have a couple of late afternoon hours together. These never fail to generate a sale or two.”
The Texan says, “We sell a lot of 3-point disc mowers” because of their low entry price point.
“As the area is shifting to beef production from dairy herds, the little disc mowers are gaining popularity. I’ve only sold two mower-conditioners in the last 10 years,” he explains.
Show Them the Difference
Near Guthrie, Okla., Ray Beck serves a two-part clientele of full-time large operators and a growing number of weekenders who live and farm in and around the sprawl of Oklahoma City. Last year, he sold about 25 mower units with no conditioners and another 10 with roller conditoners and a pair with flair conditioners.
• Ask detailed questions and pinpoint exactly what would work best to meet producers’ need for quality and speed.
• Show customers the difference between a mower and mower-conditioner so they can weigh the differences. Be ready to demonstrate it in the customer’s field.
• Be knowledgeable about what’s new in mowers. They’re changing and upgraded constantly.
• Keep up to date with state-of-the-art haying practices.
“A lot of folks will look at a mower-conditioner and see nearly double the price. They’ll back away to look at a mower only if the conditioner isn’t really that important to them,” he notes. “Also, the lower horsepower requirements of a no-conditioner mower make a lot of folks take that route.”
Beck says demonstrations are a big part of his success in moving large numbers of mowers, even though most of Oklahoma is hay country.
“I share a Vermeer field sales specialist with two other dealers in the state,” Beck explains. “Mainly he does demonstrations and sales calls and we pay part of his salary. He attends farm shows, open houses and producer meetings. This accounts for a lot of sales,” he adds.
In northeast Wisconsin, near Menomonie, Garrett Lindstrom, agrees with Lowe and Beck. “You have to have a couple of units on hand of whatever you’re selling — one for show and one for demonstration. You’re in the mower business so qualify customers with the questions, then say ‘Here’s what I have.’ Give them a walk-around, get them in the seat and let them operate it. We go to their farm, let them run it 4 or 5 hours in a field test, and let them see what it’ll cut in an hour.
“No one heard of a triple-gang 30-foot mower in our area 7 years ago, now there are 40 or 50 of them around here. You need get out there and show them what it’s all about.”
Where grass hay is prevalent and cattle are raised for food rather than milk, dealers say many customers opt for mowers alone vs. using a mower-conditioner. Photo Courtesy of Vermeer
Lindstrom, who sells Pottinger mowers and Fendt tractors to power them, says the price of fuel is another selling point to use to move new iron through the showroom.
“Take a self-propelled disc mower. You’ll burn 0.8-0.9 gallons of diesel fuel per acre. With my machines you’ll burn 0.25 gallons per acre covered and do it 30 feet at a time with equipment you can fold and transport at 32 miles per hour between fields,” he says.
As far as mowers vs. mower-conditioners, Lindstrom says the dairy influence in his area has kept most customers from “embracing” the mower without a conditioner.
“It varies, but 75% of our customers are running flail conditioners, and the other 25% are using rollers. Of that 25%, most are using rubber rollers.”
Near Plainview, Minn., an area of large dairies, Rob Badger, forage harvester specialist at SEMA, which sells John Deere equipment and Pottinger triple mowers, says efficiency is driving everything in his market.
Last year, SEMA put more than 200 hours on one machine alone using it for demonstrations emphasizing the flexibility of tractor-mounted triple mowers and front mowers over self-propelled windrowers.
“Get them in a machine and show them what it will do. Let them run it on corners and hillsides. Show them what to do in areas where there’s less than 30 feet of clearance,” Badger explains.
Demo with Auto-Steer
“Another good practice is to do your demonstrations with auto-steer. We demo with it, and all of the units we sold this year except for one were auto-steer-equipped. I make the first round and then let them get the feel of it. Then, I just sit back and let them cut and get comfortable with it.”
Badger says, “It’s all about efficiency.
10 Questions You Need to Ask Before Recommending a Mower
To help hay producers determine what type of mower will produce the desired results, dealers need to pinpoint the producer’s specific needs and type of operation.
Here are 10 questions that dealers say need answers before suggesting the type of mower best suited for what the producer needs to accomplish.
- What are you cutting and how many acres?
- What is the hay to be used for?
- How much dry hay will you handle?
- How do you handle your hay after you harvest it?
- What tractors are available for the task, and are you replacing or adding to hay harvest equipment?
- How much are you currently spending on fuel for your hay operation?
- How fast do you need to get haying done and how does that fit into the rest of your operation?
- How much labor do you have available now and in the future?
- Do you need a conditioner? Why? What is your preference of conditioners?
- How much do you want to spend?
“With these mowers and their 30-foot working widths you can reduce labor costs and have a power-plant that works 9 months of the year instead of only 3.
“It’s one engine that’s running all the time, but it’s still cheaper than running two,” he says, noting self-propelled windrowers sit idle through much of the year.
He says many of his customers buy tractors with the mowers because SEMA has been ordering tractors with the front 3-point and PTO. Most, he says, are about 280 horsepower, with a range of 230-360 horsepower.
“Most of our customers are dairy farmers with up to 1,000 cows, so feed quality is critical. With our 30 foot mowers they can cut 30 acres an hour with one operator and one tractor and still maintain the forage quality they demand. That’s compared with running two 16-foot machines.”
Beck, in Oklahoma, echoes the efficiency mantra. “We’ve had people buy a trailed mower that hooks up much easier than a 3-point and then tell me it was ‘Like gaining another tractor.’ They leave their 3-point hooked to another tractor all season.”
Badger says building relationships with his customers has helped SEMA succeed. “You have to know your products and your customers and their needs — what will make them better farmers — and then back that up with parts and service.”
Conditioners Add Dollars
Another sales professional in “Big Dairy” country is Delbert Sprecher, who sells Fendt and Massey Ferguson tractors and Pottinger and Massey mowers for McFarlanes in Sauk City, Wis. He says efficiency and “the dollar” are the driving forces that shape sales with his customers.
“We’re selling more mowers without conditioners unless a customer is merging hay, then the conditioner makes a big difference. But, a rubber roller conditioner adds $25,000 to a purchase price really fast.
“75% of our customers run flail conditioners, and the other 25% are using rollers...”
— Garrett Lindstrom
“We sell 3-7 units a year and it’s been 2 years since we sold one with a conditioner,” he explains. “The trend is for mowers only right now, and that will probably continue until university research begins telling another story on forage harvesting and management,” he notes.
A big factor in customer satisfaction, according to Sprecher, is matching the tractor to the requirements of the mower and getting the customer time with the machine before the sale.
“They’re buying newer mowers for efficiency and a reducing time in the field, so you want to make certain things are set up correctly to accomplish that. Demonstrations are a big part of it,” he says.
“You have to have the tractor to do the job, and it has to be set up with the right tires so as not to tear up the field since it’s going to be a lot heavier than traditional self-propelled harvesters. You need to put the customer in the seat for 50 acres or so. Usually, if we sell a mower we can nearly always figure on selling a tractor — generally one in the 200-225 horsepower range.”
Sprecher says, “Know your product. It’s getting more difficult to charge farmers more and more for this equipment, so matching implement needs to tractors is very important, and labor costs are a big selling point in that,” he says.
“We had a guy with four 16-foot self-propelled mowers come to us for new equipment. We sell 32-foot mowers. He bought two and used one full-time and the other half of the time. This took two drivers out of the equation. If you sell them the right tractor when you do this, you can save them quite a bit in fuel consumption, also.”
Customer Satisfaction Trumps Brands
Ultimately, regardless of what kind of farm equipment one sells, success boils down to “customer satisfaction,” says Oklahoma’s Ray Beck. “And that includes treating people the way you’d want to be treated — fair and honestly — and provide good service and products at a value. When you add that to matching what the customer wants and needs, it pretty much takes care of itself.
“As an example of this,” he says, “I had a customer recently who bought a Vermeer, which folds easily for transport, from us.
He came in and said, ‘Ray, I enjoy that machine. I have land on both sides of town and have to drive through Guthrie. I drove through town with no problems and no flag car. I got in the tractor and I cut my 50 acres of bermudagrass, folded it back up and drove back through town and across the Cimarron River Bridge. I’ve always had to have a flag car for the bridge crossing. It was so relaxing to just drive across and get home before dark.’”
The customer added: “This thing is taking the place of two 9-foot disc mowers, eliminates one tractor and another employee, and it offers me fuel savings.”