Torque Talk - Ag Implements steers own course

11 Mar, 2017 02:00 AM
Ready for a customer call-out are precision ag AMS manager Matt Harrod (left), fourth-year apprentice Jay Costantini and workshop foreman Chris Gillett.
Ready for a customer call-out are precision ag AMS manager Matt Harrod (left), fourth-year apprentice Jay Costantini and workshop foreman Chris Gillett.

THE elephant in the room in the WA farm mechanisation industry at the moment is John Deere dealerships.

Almost every day Torque is assailed by questions and rumours about the likely make up of the WA John Deere network in the light of growth by major dealerships.

Twenty five years ago there were about 17 John Deere dealers in WA.

Now there are four - AFGRI Equipment, Ag Implements, Ratten and Slater and Harvey Farm Service.

AFGRI is on the verge of making a big announcement about its future which will see the company consolidate its position as the biggest John Deere dealership in the southern hemisphere.

The announcement will reduce the number of WA John Deere dealers from four to three (not counting Vanderfields in Kununurra).

Hence the speculation.

Point the finger at the family-owned Ag Implements and owner and farmer John Nicoletti will shake his head.

With branches at Merredin, Mukinbudin, Cunderdin, Northam, Quairading and Narembeen, John said he was happy to remain low key, growing his customer base with his existing dealership network.

While he doesn't deny putting a toe in the water looking at expanding his operations, he is more comfortable overseeing a staff of 105 and being in control of his business.

The implication is clear.

If he over-stretches himself he risks undoing a lot of the work he has done.

"I'm focused on the business I've got," he said.

"We have a very strong dealership network which has been forged on the back of my staff.

"That's the key and everybody I employ gets an operational role with a measure of autonomy that's focused on doing the right thing for the customer.

"I'm not going to be around all the time when decisions need to be made so I expect my staff to step up and that's happening.

"So it's more about a staff business than just my business and it's more about being part of communities where our branches operate.

"You can have as many branches as you want but the important thing for me is to ensure I have the right people doing the right job and that job is basically to look after the customers."

John also is keen to attract and train young and mature age labour.

"There is a shortage of the type of skilled labour we require," he said. "And there's a problem holding onto them, which was particularly prevalent during the mining boom.

"That's why I want to get a message out there about career pathways in machinery dealerships and it applies to anybody who has aspirations to succeed in a very exciting industry.

"We're even sponsoring mature age people holding 457 visas."

But the main message John wants to get out in the industry, to quell speculative talk is, to paraphrase his franchisor John Deere: Strong, Stable, Still Ag Implements.

As for other speculative talk, Torque can only remain speculative - concerning the future of Super Dealers, payroll tax, stamp duty, vehicle licensing and who will trump who in the coming State elections.

Time to fire up.


COINCIDENTALLY Deere has hit the news in the USA with bullish outlook by its CEO Samuel R Allen.

Speaking recently at a shareholder meeting, an upbeat Mr Allen said his company had started out the year on a positive note in the continued face of soft market conditions.

"Although the quarter's sales and earnings are somewhat lower than last year, all of our businesses remained solidly profitable," he said.

"At the same time, we are seeing signs that after several years of steep declines key agricultural markets may be stabilising."

In a comment that Treasurer Scott Morrison might care to take note of, Mr Allen said Deere cut $US100 million out of its travel, advertising and indirect materials budgets.

That's the first $100 mill taken care of Scott. Only $44,499,900,000 to go.


AUTONOMOUS Tractor Corp president Kraig Schulz wants a "Tesla-type tractor", according to United States news agency Farm Equipment News.

Speaking at last month's Precision Farming Dealer Summit in St. Louis, Kraig broke down the benefits of a "Tesla for tractors" model in the ag industry versus a transition to fully autonomous vehicles.

One of his key take-home messages was that electric motors improve tractor durability and retention of value because they can last longer and require less maintenance.

"If you go to the (US) Department of Energy and you look at their expected lifespans for large motors greater than 100 horsepower (75kW), the average expected lifespan for an electric motor is 29 years - 200,000 hours of use - 10 times what you'd get out of a traditional tractor.

"That's pretty shocking and that's part of the reason, not the only reason, but part of the reason why you see Teslas retaining way more than half their value even after roughly half of their expected lifespan.

"This would certainly help with the cost side for the farmers if their equipment lasted for 25 years and didn't need the repairs.

"Some of those costs that they're facing would go down and start to help with that price versus costs calculus that they have to do."

C'mon Kraig, think of the machinery dealers.

Even John McEnroe would say: you can't be serious.

Ken Wilson

Ken Wilson

is Farm Weekly's machinery writer


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