The next four months are a delicately balanced dance as inputs go on so seed can go in and plants can come up. Nothing riles a customer like having to wait for a supplier to do his part. So, think about how you can prepare your whole operation to make sure everything is where it's supposed to be when it needs to be there.
Four past sources to AgProfessional stories offered suggestions and shared how to keep things running smoothly. Like so many things, "smooth running" begins at home with plant equipment maintenance, suggested Jim Carlson, Waconia, Mfg., Waconia, Minn. After all, if you can't get the product out the door, you can't deliver it.
"We suggest running equipment at least once a month, but if it's been idle, do a test run before the rush hits," said Carlson. "Follow the product flow, and look for unexpected wear and evaluate wear points for repair or replacement. Replacing a spout or other part before the season starts is a little thing that can make a big difference."
When it comes to maintenance, it is always the little things that matter, like checking belt and chain tension, cleaning out build-up in augers and conveyers, checking oil levels in gearboxes and greasing zerks. "Change the oil in gearboxes once a year," advised Carlson. "They take a lot of punishment. Fertilizer is tough on metal. Keeping metal clean and painted is always helpful."
Waconia has participated with other vendors in maintenance seminars for customers. Carlson has found it is a good way to help customers prevent problems when they can least afford it.
"We start delivering seed early and often," said Tony Jacobs, Crystal Valley Co-op, Lake Crystal, Minn. "We have low-boy, drop-deck semi trailers, pickup hitch trailers and bulk delivery wagons, depending on the order and the buyer's needs. Rigs carry forklifts with the loads for those growers who don't have their own."
Although Crystal Valley has invested in speedy handling equipment like a seed treater rated at 1,500 lbs. per minute, it's not all hardware that helps keep customers satisfied. "Our precision ag department has met with growers on variable rate planting and management zones, loaded pre-populated farms and fields into planter monitors prior to seeding and will assist customers moving and managing data from planter to sprayer and eventually to yield monitor," said Jacobs.
After years of growth and expansion through attracting new customers and merging operations with former competitors, Trupointe Cooperative, Piqua, Ohio, is consolidating outlets to centralized hubs for fertilizer and seed. The move is cutting costs and making it easier to coordinate services and deliveries to customers.
"Instead of bulk plants and branches five to seven miles apart and all handling product, we are consolidating down to one or two hubs each in our northern and southern territories," said Bob Lucia, director of sales, Trupointe. "We are moving to four and six hopper trailers that deliver bulk seed and fertilizer 60 to 80 miles in one direction. If a customer calls in one day, the delivery is made by noon the next."
When it comes to smooth running applicators and tenders, a little preventative maintenance goes a long way, suggested Denny Stahl, vice president, GVM Inc., Biglerville, Pa.
"When the applicators get out in the field, the service phones start ringing off their hooks," said Stahl. "Most early problems are because of improper maintenance before the season started."
He pointed to the importance of going through the machine from front to back, checking for wear points, loose fittings and improper tension. If the console was unplugged at the end of the previous season, it has to be properly reprogrammed. Tires need to be checked for wear, cracking and proper pressure. Checking for fluid levels and grease fittings is key.
"Lack of grease is one of the most common problems," said Stahl. "You really, truly need to grease every fitting so everything moves properly, even the driveshafts to the fan. Forget to grease one, and it can lock up and blow a fan blade through the radiator. If you don't take the time to do the little things right, they can cost you thousands of dollars in repairs."