Earlier this week, I commented on the “unprecedented times” our farm equipment industry finds itself in. I’ve been hearing about it most of the week from manufacturers —tires, castings, virtually everything needed to finish off wholegoods — with live bodies a close #2 concern.
As one manufacturer mentioned, “Thank God for robots, lasers and high commodity prices or we’d be in a real world of hurt.” A distributor mentioned, interestingly, that leadtimes of smaller, lower-volume niche and shortline manufacturers are actually looking better than that of larger OEMs.
The supply chain caught up to our publishing world in recent weeks too, with our printer, QuadGraphics (among the biggest in the U.S.) having great trouble sourcing a special paper stock we needed for inserts (I’ve never seen that one before). I shared the story with an equipment manufacturer exec in Kansas driving back from the Lincoln, Neb., show yesterday.
He replied, “I can probably work something out on paper supply with our local printer here — if you can find and trade me some U-Bolts for it.” I think he was joking, but you “never say never...”
With the supply chain challenges these days (and the recent concerns about whether planters would arrive in time for spring planting, I connected with Susie Veatch, president of Kinze Manufacturing to get some context.
“On top of all the other concerns in the supply chain, there’s now the more recent challenge of hoarding materials, for example, electronic chip shortages that we have all read about in automotive and other industries. Many manufacturers are ordering more chips than they need for production because they don’t want to risk shutting production down. So, there’s a ripple effect spiking demand and prices above and beyond what they should be,” she says.
“We’ve never experienced a pandemic before and we don’t have prior history of such an event to compare to, so it is difficult to know what to predict as far as how long these supply chain issues might last.
“Labor availability is also a challenge, but it wouldn’t be a barrier to us meeting demand if the supplies were there. I’m confident we would’ve been able to figure out how to get the production done,” she says, citing the advantages of a rural- and farm-based work force in Williamsburg, Iowa. Suppliers in the larger metropolitan areas have not been as fortunate.
Kinze is known for its longstanding philosophy toward vertically oriented production (see “Inside Kinze’s Manufacturing Facility” video here.) Veatch says it’s been helpful to not be entirely reliant on outsourced manufacturing. “If it’s metal- and/or fabrication-related, we can handle more things in-house,” she says. “But of course, we need to rely on outside suppliers for tires, rims and electronic components.”
Here’s a question to consider ... With all the turmoil in supply and the looming labor force, could we be looking at a new variable in decision-making? Are farm equipment buyers going to start asking to see manufacturers’ production Gantt charts, parts inventory figures and/or labor force profiles before making a purchase decision on early-order programs?
Let me know what you think in the comment section below...