As most of you know, our company also publishes No-Till Farmer (NTF), now in its 50th year (my dad, Frank, has personally edited each edition since 1972). With NTF’s half-century milestone and the 60th anniversary of the first commercial no-till plots in Kentucky in 2022, we’ve been preparing a museum display to bring to Louisville for the 30th National No-Tillage Conference (NNTC) in January.

I’ve been neck-deep in history for the past couple of months, which will culminate with 2,100 square feet of vertical displays in the Galt House for attendees of the NNTC and Precision Farming Dealer Summit. The research has introduced me to the revolutionaries and resistors, the ever-compounding equipment, chemical and research advances, and even secrets for getting farm practices changed (including a fascinating conversation with former NRCS Chief Bill Richards who, incidentally, “grew up” in his family farm equipment dealership in Ohio). 

It’s been a great history lesson, and also frames 2022’s challenges. We’ve got farmers with a ravenous hunger to buy, but who can’t find iron nor know when the chance will come. Same story on parts. What an incredible year dealers and manufacturers could see, if only ...

“Unprecedented” is the word that comes to mind. I assumed we’d need to return to World War II to find anything close to today’s situation, and I went to two of my most relied-upon students of equipment history for verification.

H&R Agri-Power’s Ross Morgan agreed WWII is the best corollary, though he doesn’t recall his late father-in-law ever citing an equipment shortage. The only one Morgan recalls in his 58-year career stemmed from the high-demand 1970s, yet still doesn’t touch today’s situation.

I also went to Paul Wallem, retired International Harvester (IH) company exec and dealer. The question prompted an immediate call to his friend and retired ag broadcaster Orion Samuelson. 

Both 87, the pair recalled how IH, consumed by the war production, begged farmers to pull the junk from their fencerows for the much-needed scrap iron. “There were parts shortages everywhere,” Wallem says. “My parents said we and all the neighbors loaned parts to each other just to keep farming.” Still, a lot of machines went unused for years because the parts didn’t exist to operate them.

With the surprise plant shutdowns in 2020, the quick return and the strong crop prices, Wallem agrees we’re in uncharted waters. “Neither Orion nor I could recall a time when production was cut like this and then rolled back up again within 6 months.” 

The componentry and precious metals for computers, he says, further distances the war-production era from comparison. “Maybe a 6-month shortage on occasion, but never a whole year. This isn’t once in a lifetime; it’s once in a century.” 

Like Morgan, Wallem recalls a shortage of Axial-Flow combines in 1979. Wallem sold out every one of his combines that year yet was still able to find more and finished with an impressive 29 sold. “By 1980, I would’ve loved to have had a shortage,” he laughs, noting that the shortage experienced that year was of a different kind — one involving customers.

All this points to a big year for your service and repair business. But there’ll be parts problems to contend with. And everyone’s sprinting to hire more service techs than can be found. And if you allow yourself to calculate out how many millions of dollars will go unrealized by the service hours (and accompanying parts sales) failing to get billed due to unfilled technician posts, it’ll turn the stomach. 

Executive Editor Kim Schmidt is tackling the tech availability topic in our January SHOWCASE and sharing what progressive dealers are doing to put control back in their own hands. This challenge is so central to dealers — and farmers for that matter — that we’ve already concluded that next summer’s 2022 Dealership Minds Summit will be themed around Service Management. We’ll do our best to highlight best practices among farm equipment dealers — of all colors and regions — and help you develop and keep the talent that you’ve already secured.  

For a follow up article, see How Will Supply Chain, Labor Impact Future Equipment Buying?