It may be one of the best kept secrets in the industry: Many Massey Ferguson dealers offer a lot more than quality agricultural equipment. Many also sell a full line of lawn and garden tractors and zero-turn mowers for the rural lifestyle market.
“What a lot of customers don’t realize,” says Warren Morris, AGCO tactical marketing manager for tractors under 150 HP, “is that we have an agreement with Briggs & Stratton Power Products Group that offers an extension of our lawn care product line. Many of our dealers sell five different zero-turn mower series and four additional lawn tractor series that are marketed under the Massey Ferguson brand name.
“They are,” continues Morris, “as dependable and comfortable as the Massey Ferguson name would suggest. Featuring all-steel construction, welded frames, high-performance V-Twin engines and easy-to-operate hydrostatic transmissions, they’re built for rugged, reliable performance.”
Dick Felder, director of licensed brand sales, North America, Briggs & Stratton, Inc., says consumers would indeed be hard-pressed to find a lawn tractor as well built as their Massey Ferguson line at such a competitive price. “Thanks to our factory efficiency and production volume, we can match or beat the price on virtually every mower that is comparably equipped,” he says.
“The same goes for features,” Felder continues. “All but the lowest priced model, for example, feature a fabricated steel mower deck with a limited lifetime warranty, for lasting dependability.”
Other available features, depending on the lawn or yard tractor series, include automatic controlled traction for year-round performance; power steering and cruise control for reduced fatigue; and an electric PTO for attachments and height-of-cut adjustment. “Several models are even classified as professional-grade mowers and carry a professional warranty of four years or 500 hours—whichever comes first—with unlimited hours during the first two years,” adds Felder.
For more information on the full line of lawn and garden tractors and zero-turn mowers, see your participating Massey Ferguson dealer or log on to www.masseylawn.com. Currently, Briggs & Stratton works with about 170 Massey Ferguson dealers who participate in the program.
Growing up on a farm in Caro, Mich., AGCO customer Jesse Vollmar noticed that tech was transforming other industries, but life on the farm remained labor-intensive and low-tech.
Although Jesse’s parents—who with the help of their Challenger tractors grow organic row crops like black beans and blue corn for retail giants like Chipotle—had broadband Internet and smartphones, records on their 1,200-acre farm were still kept with what he calls “cumbersome spreadsheets. There was a widening gap between what was possible and what was being applied on the farm,” Vollmar explains.
The farm kid saw an opportunity and turned into a tech entrepreneur. His goal: Create a solution to make crop management easier for farmers like his parents. The result: In 2012, Vollmar launched FarmLogs to help, he says, “farmers digitally manage their farms and to leverage data from their fields to improve their operations.”
The company, according to Vollmar, has developed new technology, including web and mobile field monitoring software that notifies farmers when yield threats are detected. FarmLogs also automatically records field activities and provides instant access to field-specific rainfall data, soil maps, yield maps and growth stage estimation.
While inspiration for the startup was rooted in his farm experience, Vollmar knew he needed funding, advice and connections for FarmLogs to grow into a thriving startup. Along with business partner Brad Koch, Vollmar applied to Y Combinator, a prestigious startup accelerator in Mountain View, Calif., to help launch FarmLogs.
For four months, the pair lived and worked in California, devoted 24/7 to developing the software and preparing to roll it out to farmers and investors. As part of the program, FarmLogs received $20,000 in startup capital and access to mentors who offered advice on all aspects of business development. It was the first ag tech startup accepted into the accelerator.
Since graduating from Y Combinator, FarmLogs has, according to Vollmar, raised $15 million in capital and captured about one-third of the market among row crop farmers with 100-plus acres in production. “We started [FarmLogs] before ag tech was a trend,” Vollmar notes. “No one could have even conceived of this five years ago, and now we’re growing at a pace that’s mind-blowing.”
Nate Ray has some 25,000 hungry mouths to feed—all of them the bovine beauties at De Jager Farms’ eight dairies in California’s Central Valley. Specifically, Ray oversees operations on De Jager’s 17,000 acres of farmland, most of which is used to grow corn, wheat and alfalfa.
Over the years, Ray has helped introduce new practices at the farm, including subsurface drip irrigation (SDI). Yet, as is often the case, one change begets another, as when the use of SDI created an even greater need to reduce compaction.
Ray found the solution in the form of a Challenger® MT865E. “We chose this Challenger track machine for our minimum-tillage operations,” says Ray, “and basically it was to reduce our compaction and just to give us more power to the ground that we weren’t getting with our John Deere machines. The Challenger,” which he says has also reduced fuel usage, has “provided more torque, more pulling power and greater efficiency.”
Ray and De Jager also recently switched to AGCO windrowers. “Over the course of two years,” says Ray, “we tried out just about every brand on the market, from New Holland to John Deere to MacDon to Case, and we pretty much fell in love with the AGCO machines.”
In the course of making the change—to two Challenger and two Massey Ferguson® WR9760 self-propelled windrowers—Ray was also able to actually reduce the number of windrowers from six, while making the seven to eight cuttings of alfalfa per year on the same acreage in less time and using less fuel. What’s more, he says, the quality of the cutting is “on par, if not better, with the AGCO rotary heads.”
As for his AGCO dealership, “We’ve been working with Holt of California for about four years now, and their service has been excellent. Their expertise and knowledge of the machines has enabled us to run them to their maximum performance. And we’ve just had a great working relationship with them. They’ve provided excellent customer support.”
For more, see http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/going-underground-irrigation-breakthroughs-in-drought-stricken-california/.
East Fork Farm in Madison County, N.C., earns 90% of its revenues from farmers markets. To stand out from other vendors, farmers Stephen and Dawn Robertson hand out samples and provide recipe cards.
“When I give someone a sample and a recipe card, I sell double,” says Dawn. “It takes the burden off of them to figure out how to use our products.”
Until 2013, the couple sold their eggs, chicken and lamb at four markets per week. Sales were great, but the commitment left the couple burned out and struggling to keep up with farm chores. To maximize revenues and minimize their off-farm commitments, the Robertsons dropped down to one weekend market and built a farm store.
Dawn turned to social media to build buzz about the farm, sharing photos and updates on Facebook and Instagram, and started sending a monthly newsletter with information about product availability.“People want to know what’s happening on the farm,” she says. “It’s a new way for us to market our proteins.”
Digital media is an important tool in connecting with customers, as are other technologies, such as electronic payment options and SNAP/WIC benefits. Programs like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and mobile farmers markets have also been embraced by producers.
But such new methods of reaching customers are not for everyone. Some farmers, such as Ron Thompson of Rockwood, Ontario, stick to the basics.
Thompson doesn’t have a web site or social media presence to market the squash, green beans, Brussels sprouts, beets, Swiss chard and other vegetables he grows on his 9-acre farm in Rockwood, Ontario. He doesn’t send newsletters with updates about what he’s bringing to market.
Thompson is still marketing his vegetables the same way he did in the 1970s. “I go to the farmers market on Saturday mornings,” he explains.
Thompson has been loading his pickup truck with fresh produce and driving 45 minutes to the Brampton Farmers Market for almost four decades. In the early years, he harvested less produce and sold to fewer customers. Now, he’s racing to keep up with demand at the bustling market. “I haven’t changed what I’m doing, but, all of a sudden, the market is packed and people can’t wait to get farm-fresh vegetables,” says Thompson.
Regardless of the advent of new opportunities, Thompson believes that effective farm marketing comes down to one thing: “You have to raise a good product,” he says. “Without a good product, you might sell to a customer once, but you’ll never sell to them again.”
Started in 2002 by two Washington state producers, Shepherd’s Grain now includes about 60 wheat growers, mainly in the Northwestern U.S., with a few growers located as far away as Southern California and the Canadian Prairie. Although they’ve begun offering some of the milled grain at the retail level, the vast majority of what the group sells is to bakeries in Portland and Seattle. In 2015, the Shepherd’s Grain farmers produced a total of 673,000 bushels of wheat, a growth of about 720% since 2005.
“It really started,” says Mike Moran, the Shepherd’s Grain general manager, “when a lot of growers in our region realized that the way that the land had been farmed over the last few decades was not sustainable long term. In fact, because of wind and water erosion, particularly in the hilly areas of the Palouse, they were losing topsoil at a rate that meant that their families wouldn’t be able to continue to farm there if they kept doing what they were doing.”
To combat the losses, as well as improve soil health, Shepherd’s Grain farmers often work together, sharing information on what’s worked for them and what hasn’t. As a result, many have minimized, if not eliminated, tillage. For instance, Garry Esser and his son John use rotational and cover crops, and say they only till the ground every three to six years, unlike their previous practice of churning up the ground almost annually.
In addition to farming methods, Shepherd’s Grain also promotes a business model that is sustainable. Selling to bakeries via longer-term contracts, the group of farmers not only forge business relationships, but build bridges between different groups of people who often do not have much contact with each other.
“It’s really about … connecting farmers with consumers … and without that,” continues Moran, “we wouldn’t have that information flow from the consumer back to the farmer, and on the other side, really helping the consumer understand all of the complexity of farming.”
“The end users who have bought into Shepherd’s Grain have done so for a variety of reasons,” says John Esser, a Challenger customer who recently became a partner with his dad. “But I’d say at the top of the list is they’ve loved the relationship that they have with the growers.
“You know, for so many people, you go to the store, you buy bread, you go home, you eat it. Nobody really connects the farmer to the bread,” continues the younger Esser. “Shepherd’s Grain offers an opportunity for people to know the information behind where their food comes from.”
For more about how AGCO customers are involved with Shepherd’s Grain from our exclusive customer magazine, FarmLife, see http://www.myfarmlife.com/features/shepherds-grain-bridges-built-alliances-forged/.