By Jim Patrico
Progressive Farmer Editor
DECATUR, Ill.--The crowds were still there this week in the crammed pathways and stubbled demo fields of the Farm Progress Show. And record numbers of exhibitors were still greeting casual questioners as well as serious shoppers. What was missing was the sense that -- as in some recent years -- a lot of major purchases machinery were in the offing.
As this year's show season slides by, the farm equipment industry has seen better days. Depending on which report you read, high horsepower tractors sales are down 25-30% from last year. Combines are even worse, at maybe 40% down. Sales of self-propelled sprayers and planters are also seriously slumping.
But that's the big stuff. How about other categories of equipment? Some vendors displayed products aimed precisely at farmers looking for a slight edge at low cost. Tweaks on existing products were common. So were new twists on old ideas. As you might expect at an event inhabited largely by merchants and sales folk, there was still an aura of optimism.
Here's a sampling of comments made by exhibitors DTN/The Progress Farmer visited at the Farm Progress Show.
*Trimble is a provider of guidance systems as well as a large array of digital devices for measuring, data collection and management tools. The company admittedly is seeing a slowdown of hardware sales, especially to OEMs. But sales of subscription systems like Connected Farm have held up. Customers understand, said Mike Martinez, market manager for Trimble's Agriculture Division, that even in down markets, "management can work at the margins to help create profits."
New from Trimble is a menu of bundled Connected Farm subscriptions that reduce the cost for services such as mobile apps for in-field record keeping, mapping and scouting. Also part of the bundles are wireless data transfer systems between the field and office and the ability to process imagery from UAVs.
*AGCO's combine sales, like everyone else's, are suffering. But sales of related machinery, such as headers, are "spiking," said, Kevin Bien, Gleaner brand manager for AGCO. The 3300 Command Series headers are an example.
Designed for high-yield corn environments, the new headers are convertibles: The operator can run them as normal headers, or he can engage blades to make the headers into choppers that cut stalks and create finer residue. A tilting-head feature and high-capacity augur also can improve efficiency.
*Thunder Creek makes service trailers that carry everything from fuel and tools to DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) and light towers. Its newest line introduced at Farm Progress are the field service trailers (FST), which are available in 500-, 750- and 990-gallon diesel capacities with a 100-gallon DEF tank and an optional field-installed rear utility box.
The company has one foot in the ag world and one in the construction industry, said Jason Harland, market manager. The construction side is doing well as the general economy's slump has ended and building projects are sprouting. Ag is less fortunate, Harland said. Sales have slowed but not stopped. "Guys might not be spending $200,000 [for big new machines] but they are still spending $10,000-$30,000." He said trailers like Thunder Creek's could increase a farm's efficiency and save valuable time by bringing supplies and tools to the field.
*Hay tools have been a bright spot for farm equipment manufacturers. As grain markets have dipped, livestock and hay and forage markets have surged. "Overall, hay is really good," said Kyle Kitts, AGCO Marketing Manager for Hay & Forage.
His company at Farm Progress introduced several products aimed at the hay and forage market including the WR9800 Series SP Windrower and the 2200 Series large square baler. The windrower offers a RearSteer option for greater ease of transport, and enhanced stability at higher speeds. The 2200 Series has a ProCut Option for more consistent cutting, even in higher-moisture crops.
*Most farm machinery rides on tires, and the decline of new machinery sales has had a negative impact on radial tire manufacturer Michelin, said James Crouch, farm segment marketing manager for North America. "It's tough. The OEM market has bombed. But after-market sales are good. In fact, sales of replacement tires have picked up."
The outlook for replacement tires is even better in the long run, Crouch said, because as farmers hold onto equipment longer, they are going to buy tires to keep it running most efficiently.
With that in mind, Michelin introduced several new tire lines at Farm Progress including the VF480/80R50 179D SprayBib for high clearance sprayers and the IF900/65R46 190D AxioBib to control compaction on large tractors.
True to a marketing man's optimism, Crouch pointed out that because Michelin is gaining market share of the OEM business, when new equipment sales perk up, so will Michelin's.
Jim Patrico can be reached at email@example.com
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