On the cusp of suburbia, in the middle of fertile farmland, you can find Christy Kirtley cutting hay and raising cattle.
“For us to put fence posts through black dirt, I think they thought we were going crazy to be honest with you,” she says.
That didn't stop them from striving to capture their dream: Growing their first-generation family cattle business one day at a time.
“As the herd grew, I felt very vulnerable to the hay market, and my husband and I thought it was very irresponsible to depend on someone else for our cattle's feed,” says Kirtley.
So, they found a solution to their problem, in the form of equipment. “We bought special equipment that enabled us to do haylage equipment, or wet hay, and then wrap it, and that shortened the window of opportunity needed to do a harvest.”
Demand for Combines, Planters
Jared Kakasuleff farms row crops just down the road in Cicero, Indiana, also searching for ways to improve their operation with newer equipment. "Over the last several years we've upgraded the equipment to get our track spacing as wide as possible and to become as efficient as possible,” he explains.
The family’s close attention to detail meant they wanted more efficient equipment, including AutoTrac and swath controls. This past year, they even invested in a newer combine. “We also switched to draper heads for soybeans,” says Kakasuleff. “We raise seed beans, and quality and timeliness of cutting those is important. That allowed us to gain a half-mile to one mile per hour on our cutting speed."
The surprising momentum in combine sales isn't going unnoticed. “We're seeing some good action with sprayers, combines and tractors” says Craig Benedict, precision ag lead for Reynolds Farm Equipment in Atlanta, Ind.
“Used combine values have been holding, which that still surprises me given that the end of 2015 was soft into December,” says Greg "Machinery Pete" Peterson.
It’s more than just combines posting impressive gains this year at Reynolds Farm Equipment.
“The biggest surprise has probably been our planter inventory,” says Craig Black, store manager at Reynolds Farm Equipment. “We've worked through just about everything we had used on the planter inventory," with strong demand for new planters as well.
Soybean Rally Drives Sales of Equipment, Technology
As farmers ride the bull market in soybeans, it's changing attitudes, fueling the surprise in equipment purchases. “The increase in the beans took it from a marginal year in terms of being able to make money, to 'Yeah, we can make some money planting soybeans,'” says Black.
Peterson isn't surprised. “I’ve noticed it since 2012, where the weather scares or any price jump, to me, the impact to the used market has become more immediate,” he says. “We saw it again this spring, so definitely if we see some action, up or down, the used market will reflect that, I think.”
Peterson says the moving market could continue to influence sales trends for farm equipment. “Normally, late summer early fall values tend to get a little softer, but what I’ve seen in April and May--basically stronger to solid prices--makes me think we'll probably hold through the rest of the year,” he says.
It’s not just equipment in high demand. Farmers are investing in technology too.
“Technology mirrors equipment in that it was soft at the beginning of 2016, but I believe it will continue to grow throughout 2016,” says Benedict. “I’ve had customers call in requesting quotes on new technology upgrades, for planters, anhydrous bars, combines, so, that's a really positive thing in my opinion, that we're starting to hit that flat spot and taper up.”
“This pivot we put in last year,” farmer Jaren Stafford of Tipton, Ind., says, while overlooking irrigation providing the wheat crop with a drink of water. Stafford has been upgrading equipment for the improved technology.
“It's a big investment up front, but I don't know where we would be without it today,” he says.
Stafford thinks better data and information translates into better decisions on the farm, and he's really excited about the future.
“I like the idea of being able to view different machines in different fields, and also being able to remotely access those machines, those displays,” he says. “If the operator is having a problem, I can remotely pull up what he's seeing and go in and fix it.”
“What we're really doing is we're moving from precision agriculture, where we are doing what we planned on based on what happened last year, and then we're looking at real time data, but we're moving to prescriptive to say ‘what does the model tell me for market prices for weather’ and start making decisions based on what's likely to happen,” predicts Matt Bechdol, interim director at the Ag Data Coalition.
The future may not be written, but the plot to this year's chapter is quickly changing. “I’m really excited about 2016,” says Reynolds Farm Equipment's Black. “It looks like it's going to be a great finish (after) a soft start.”
Did the spring rally allow you to invest in equipment this year? Let us know in the comments.
On the Road With Machinery Pete: Atlanta, Indiana