Beginning the first day of the new year, AGCO will have a new chairman, president and chief executive officer: Wisconsin native Eric Hansotia, an eight-year veteran of the world's third-largest agricultural equipment manufacturing company. "I've had farming in my blood for most of my life," he says, recalling years participating in 4-H and the FFA, (formerly known as Future Farmers of America) and working on a local dairy farm. The new chief executive has extensive experience in engineering, quality control, advanced technology, manufacturing, product management and global business leadership. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with bachelor's and master's of science degrees in mechanical engineering. Hansotia earned his MBA from the University of Iowa.
AGCO turned 30 years old in June, and Hansotia takes the helm of a manufacturer hunting for dominance in technology. "We want to be a front-runner on the digital highway," he says. "Young farmers are thirsty for digital interaction with smart machines. We're trying to position ourselves at the vortex of those trends."
Hansotia most recently served as AGCO senior vice president and chief operating officer, and has a seat on the board of directors. He has been responsible for all of AGCO's regional commercial operations as well as its global product management, engineering, manufacturing and supply chain functions, and has been the company lead navigating AGCO through the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to joining AGCO, Hansotia completed a 20-year career with John Deere. Following are selections of an interview with Progressive Farmer.
PF: AGCO turned 30 years old this past June, what do the next 30 years look like?
Hansotia: Our mission is to keep farmers at the forefront of everything we do. We've got farmer panels that meet with our senior leadership teams [who work] to understand what is going on in their business. That leads to conversations about smart farming solutions, machines that understand their environment through sensors and onboard analytics, and that optimize themselves on the go.
PF: COVID-19 has obviously presented serious challenges to the farm-equipment industry. What has been AGCO's response?
Hansotia: I remember very clearly we brought our leadership together on Friday, March 13th, and we said, we need to send everybody home and, where possible, work remotely. By Monday morning [that was in place]. On the morning of March 14, we started seven-day-a-week leadership meetings. They were rapid-fire meetings that would ingest what was happening around the world. We quickly changed layouts in our factories and implemented many other precautionary measures to keep our employees safe. Our infection rates globally have been less than half the rate of the populations in which we operate. We set up a task force to understand the situations of every one of our suppliers and understand what we needed to do to keep components flowing into our factories and keep farmers in their fields.
PF: And the result?
Hansotia: What came out of this was an amazing surge of innovation and passion for the farmer, and an attitude of doing whatever was needed to keep them up and running. We saw hundreds of ideas and actions from every area of the company dedicated to that mission: online solutions, remote monitoring, new diagnostic tools, safe ways to deliver parts and products. Really inspiring efforts and out-of-the-box thinking.
PF: Will you give us an example?
Hansotia: One tool was an app that was rolled out in just a few days. If a farmer subscribed to it, a service technician could access the farmer's phone's camera, microphone and speaker. The farmer might say, "Here's what I hear or see on my machine." The service technician could be there as if he is standing next to the farmer to diagnose that problem. This is a tool we will maintain going forward.
PF: What technologies especially interest AGCO?
Hansotia: We believe autonomy and our smart machines go hand in hand. To create an autonomous piece of equipment and take the operator out of the cab, you have to first automate all the functions in the cab. We are automating feature after feature on our sprayers, combines and planters. In the short-term, the equipment will be smarter, sensing field-specific information on the go and adjusting on its own. That brings higher value to the farmer today. With each step in the process, you get closer to taking the operator completely out of the cab.
PF: Give us an example of improved machinery productivity.
Hansotia: Consider Precision Planting's SmartFirmer. It travels in the furrow and senses soil temperature, soil moisture, organic matter and residue. Using it, you can put the planter in autopilot mode. In areas of high organic matter, the planter will plant a higher population. In areas with more limited productivity, it will plant a lower population. The operator won't have to make those adjustments. [The planter] can also switch hybrids to a racehorse hybrid for a high-fertility area or a more defensive hybrid in lower-fertility areas.
PF: Tell us about AGCO's swarm robot concept?
Hansotia: We have an automated fleet concept for planting called Project Xaver. It's a swarm robot approach, where a single row unit can be used for planting or field scouting. Each works in tandem with other robots in the field. They all know where all the others have been, so they can collectively plant the field. Smart machines like SmartFirmer are a value to all farmers. Autonomy such as Xaver will have value for some farmers. [Find out more about Project Xaver at fendt.com/int/xaver.]
PF: AGCO has been introducing a new line of Fendt products. What features in those equipment and technology lines make you think it will be a game-winner?
Hansotia: People are blown away by the Fendt 1000 Series tractor, the fuel efficiency, the comfort and the quietness because it runs at a low rpm. It's the largest fixed-frame tractor in the industry. It's got tremendous pulling power. There are a lot of farmers in North America with high expectations, and we have the tractors for them. We also have the Fendt IDEAL combine, the Fendt Momentum planter, the Fendt tracked tractors. We're bringing to the marketplace a full set of solutions.
PF: You've talked throughout this interview about AGCO investments in the future. Would you be more specific?
Hansotia: We have five main investment areas. One of those is [building] a machine that can communicate, to send information through telemetry. Second is automation, so machines are able to understand their environment and adjust their activity or optimize performance. Third is robotics like Project Xaver, which provides autonomous machines working out in the field to complement functions of larger equipment. A fourth area is electrification to power machine operation and components for new levels of control and efficiency. The last, fifth, is future fuels. Whether it be for the environment or efficiency, we are invested in various options such as synthetic fuels, biomethane fuels, electrification, hydrogen and things like that.
PF: Once 2020 passes into history, what about 2021?
Hansotia: The average age of equipment is getting older. We are seven years past the last [sales] peak. We believe farmers' confidence is growing. Large ag sales will be down from 2019, but not as bad as we once expected. There is a lot of uncertainty in the market for 2021. We're just not sure what's going to happen with the virus. We also don't know what governments are going to do to support the farm industry. But, if you neutralize those, 2021 may be a year of recovery in many of our markets. We're seeing an uptick in commodity prices. Higher prices are generally tied pretty closely to demand for machinery.
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