Flush Farmers Leading to Parts Frenzy

Operators Plowing Profits, Stimulus Funds Into Planter Upgrades

Joel Reichenberger
By  Joel Reichenberger , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
After years of deferring maintenance, farmers are investing in upgrading their planters this spring, which is leading to long days for those supplying the parts. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Bob Elbert)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (DTN) -- The phone calls can start as early as 5 a.m. and ring and ring and ring until 10 p.m., to an answering service Brian Sieker set up, or to his cell phone.

The online orders simply never stop with emails coming around the clock from farmers from all corners of the contiguous United States looking to refurbish and upgrade their planters.

Sieker never thought it would be quite like this seven years ago when he moved back home to farm in Chase, Kansas, and decided to run a planter parts supply business on the side. The operation has grown steadily in that time, but he's never seen anything quite like this year. He said farmers are flush with Coronavirus Food Assistance Program and Paycheck Protection Program stimulus funds and loans and are buoyed by strong on-farm income and soaring commodity prices. Now they're intent on making up for deferred maintenance.

The end result, at least for one business in central Kansas, is a phone that rings 17 hours a day.

"There's an increase in farm income. Grain has been better. The CFAP money has come in and those checks are helping," said Sieker, who runs his operation at NewAgSupply.com. "It's just a perfect storm. It started before Christmas and it's been running hard ever since."

RIDING HIGH

Spring is the busy season in the planter-parts business. Sieker sees 70% of his annual business between January and April. But he's not alone in declaring this year different.

"We haven't seen farmer sentiment this positive in a while," said Phil Needham.

Needham supplies parts for no-till drills and air seeders with his company Needham Ag Technologies in Calhoun, Kentucky, and online at www.needhamag.com. He has four more employees on staff than he had at this time last year and he still can't keep up.

The orders build up over the weekend and come in heavily early in the week, so much so that simply opening the emails and printing them can keep an employee busy full time.

"We're living in times right now we may never see again," Needham said. "We're up more than two times year-to-date on last year, and last year wasn't bad at all. Farmers have gone two, three, four years without a lot of maintenance and now that commodity prices have picked up, boom, everyone's fixing things."

The traffic is enough that parts are starting to run low, leading to long delays.

"Just about any component we're buying to resell is delayed, backordered or out of stock," Needham said. "The raw materials are out of stock or the logistics of getting it are impaired because of 15 different reasons. The whole supply chain is either in short supply or out of stock."

His advice for farmers, at this point, is to be prepared to be disappointed and potentially have to push through the spring planting season with the equipment they already have.

Then, when they can catch their breath early in the summer, strike while the opportunity is there.

"Anyone who's hoping to be running soon, we may not be able to get those parts in. Those two or four weeks out may struggle to get some components, too, and they may have to get through the spring and follow up with a rebuild as soon as they can," he said.

The issues run beyond planter parts, to all sorts of equipment.

In all cases, Needham suggests a proactive approach.

"I'm concerned farmers will need parts to keep tractors and combines and grain carts running and when something breaks a dealer will say, 'I can't get it until later this summer,'" he said. "I think there will be a lot of that, way more than anyone's ever seen. If a farmer knows a certain component has a high risk of failure, they may want to grab it now. I can foresee a lot of shortages."

THREE WAYS TO UPGRADE

If a farmer does have a windfall he or she is looking to invest, and the parts are in stock, Sieker has a few ideas.

He advises three areas of focus for anyone looking to upgrade their planter on the secondary market.

First is closing wheels, which run between $100 to $500 per row.

"The main thing is you're trying to maximize your seed to soil contact, to eliminate sidewall compaction," he said. "If you do a better job with closing and creating seed to soil contact, you're going to do a better job with your germination and create more emergence and you'll maximize the value of every plant from the start."

He also pointed to upgrading row cleaners, from $450 to $1,400 per row.

"A lot of guys have some older planters and that's a place that maintenance and improvements have been deferred," Sieker said. "There are some newer models, newer technology, where people can make big improvements."

Finally, his biggest-ticket recommendation is for a hydraulic down-pressure system, running about $1,000 per row.

"If you're set for too much down pressure, you're creating sidewall compaction and that can deter root development; or you might not have enough down pressure and you're not getting your seed in the proper spot," he said. "You're trying to maximize the chance that seed is in the proper place without too much compaction based on the amount of down pressure."

Needham recommended checking with the experts, "someone with some product knowledge to help guide you into what works and what doesn't to improve performance."

That, he said, or an even more basic approach.

"Read the operator's manual and study and understand what needs to be replaced and when to achieve peak performance," he said. "Right now, the way commodity prices are positioned, everyone wants as many bushels as they can to capitalize on the prices. Seeding equipment is where it begins."

Joel Reichenberger can be reached at joel.Reichenberger@dtn.com

Follow him/her on Twitter @JReichPF

Joel Reichenberger