Last Word

Jim Patrico
By  Jim Patrico , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Being Machinery Editor for DTN/The Progressive Farmer included perks like doing aerial photos from a helicopter at a new production launch of Lexion combines. (Photo courtesy of CLAAS)

I wrote my first item for the Machinery Chatter blog in May of 2010. I'm writing my last today because I'm retiring as Machinery Editor for DTN/The Progressive Farmer as of Jan. 2.

Co-contributors Dan Miller, Russ Quinn and I covered a lot of ground in the blog for the last seven-plus years. Dan Davidson, Gregg Hillyer and Greg Horstmeier also contributed. The excellent Cheri Zagurski and later Anthony Greder helped keep us writers on track. Some of those same folks -- Dan Miller and Russ in particular -- will be your Machinery Chatter hosts now. So the blog is in good hands.

As I review some of the blogs in the Machinery Chatter archives, I see a parade of new products, everything from ATVs and side-by-sides to Class 9 combines and four-track tractors. It was fascinating to me to watch these products make their way to market. I especially liked asking engineers, product specialists and dealers why the machine developed the way it did and why would customers want to buy it.

I felt lucky to write about products that have not yet come to market such as AGCO's prototype three-axle tractor, the TriSix or the independent Tribine combine/grain cart. In 2011, Kinze showed off a grain cart/tractor system that required no driver. And just last year, Case IH and New Holland promoted futuristic autonomous tractors. The thing about these "could be" products is that they stretch the imagination and give shape to real-world solutions that haven't yet made it from drawing board to dealer's lot.

Technology has always been a main subject for Machinery Chatter. Do you remember when drones were toys and telemetry was something for spacecraft, not farm equipment? Seven years ago, I wrote about a new company that planned to use satellites and cell towers to bring broadband access to underserved rural areas. That hasn't happened yet, in part because of fears the targeted bandwidths would interfere with the GPS spectrum and create havoc for planes, trains and automobiles. As a result, farmers in some parts of the country still struggle to use internet-based technologies their brethren elsewhere use to improve their efficiency.

Industry news -- especially mergers and acquisitions -- have fascinated me. Consolidation is a decades-long trend that gained speed in the 20-teens. Early on, I wrote about AGCO as a company whose business model was based on buying new farm equipment companies. That seemed to change when Martin Richenhagen replaced co-founder Robert Ratliff as CEO and indicated AGCO's growth would be "organic" from that time forward. Buying companies, it seemed, were no longer in AGCO's game plan. A few months later, AGCO bought GSI, the grain-handling-equipment manufacturer.

Other acquisitions that appeared in Machinery Chatter included Kubota's purchase of Great Plains Manufacturing. It was a very big deal that moved Kubota one giant step closer to its aspiration of being the full-line ag equipment manufacturer.

Even bigger, perhaps, was the John Deere/Climate Corporation/Monsanto agreement that temporarily seemed to transfer ownership of Precision Planting to Big Green. The Department of Justice protested the deal would give Deere a monopoly on fast-planting technology, and the parties eventually split. Guess who bought Precision Planting last summer? AGCO.

Stuff like that makes the machinery industry a great playground for a journalist. The intrigue. The rumors. The "Oh, yeah, that makes sense now" moments. I'll miss covering machinery on a regular basis, though I hope to keep my hand in as a freelancer.

I'll also miss the blog as a regular way to engage with you readers. That might sound trite, but it is true.

When I wrote my first blog item, it was new territory for me. I'd been taught at the University of Missouri's School of Journalism that journalists used a detached voice when writing news. And that's what I did for most of my career. But a column or a blog is a different beast. It requires using one's own voice in what ideally is a conversation with readers.

If you were on the other side of that Machinery Chatter conversation, thanks. It's been a pleasure talking to you.

(ES/AG)

Jim Patrico