Starting in 2008, the September issue of Farm Equipment had traditionally been our Sourcebook directory issue, offering a product index, product directory, supplier directory and brand name directory to manufacturers, suppliers and other vendors dealers work with. You’ve likely noticed the issue in your hands is a little slimmer than past September issues. At the end of 2020, we made the decision to revamp the issue. In a digital age, with so much information readily available, we felt the directory had outlived its usefulness.

In its place, we now have our new Shortline Edition … a celebration of the shortline products and manufacturers who are leading innovation in the farm equipment industry. Shortlines, as the name implies, are suppliers of specialized equipment, most often focusing on limited machinery types. Unlike the majors — AGCO, Case IH, John Deere, New Holland and Kubota — that seek to provide a “full-line” of equipment to cover every need, shortliners are specialists.

The shortline manufacturers’ niche focus on specific product categories means they more often than not are the leaders in product innovation. We surveyed farmers to get their perspective on the shortline equipment they’ve purchased, why they purchased it and their overall view on those manufacturers. Overwhelmingly (90% of farmers who responded to the survey), they agree with the statement, “Independent manufacturers are the driving force for the technological advancement in their respective niche product segments.”  

While the widespread adoption of new technologies and products often happens as a result of the adoption by the majors, the introduction often starts with a shortline. In some cases, when the majors add the product it is being contract manufactured by a shortline. In other cases, the line was added through an acquisition. 

It’s why we see companies like Deere and CNH acquiring shortlines (particularly when it comes to precision and autonomy in recent years). Just a couple of weeks ago Deere announced its acquisition of startup Bear Flag Robotics and earlier in the summer CNH announced its acquisition of Raven … both moves helping the majors in their quest for autonomous equipment.  

In fact, it seems as though Kubota is working its way to a true mainline via acquisitions. In 2012, Kubota completed a full-ownership of Kverneland Group, which added hay equipment to the tractor manufacturers offerings. Then in 2016, Kubota purchased Great Plains, adding access to  tillage and planting equipment. And while all 5 Great Plains divisions continue to operate as they had, who’s to say that will always be the case? 

The push for dealer purity among the majors has made it more challenging for the shortlines to gain — or hold on to — a place on dealers’ lots. Dr. Jim Weber, long-time industry consultant and contributor to Farm Equipment, argues that’s not a bad thing. 

He says, “The fourth and final reason for not taking on a shortline is that it may put you into an adversarial position with your major supplier. Again, this is when the shortline is in direct competition with the major supplier’s product line. This is not a battle that should be waged.” You can find his other points on why dealers shouldn’t add shortlines in the Point/Counterpoint article. 

Whether selling shortlines is right for your business is up to each individual dealer, but there’s no denying that the shortline manufacturers are important to the future of the farm equipment industry and the innovation that is still to be seen.