There will be no such thing as near-term saturation for sales and installation of precision agricultural equipment on self-propelled applicators. Logically, new precision products and systems will continue to be developed because much of the equipment is computer based, and computer advancements have been notoriously rapid in recent years.



"The boom height control, in and of itself, is fairly new equipment, but manufacturers have been building sprayers for 10 to 15 years that are still in the field and could accept one of our kits," said Steve Sveum, marketing manager for Norac. There are thousands of sprayers in the U.S. right now that don't have a boom height controller on them that could have one."



Other precision equipment manufacturers agree with Sveum in that there are big opportunities to install their specific equipment on used equipment, upgrade precision equipment already on applicators, have more installations on new applicators and have more original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) install systems at the factory.



FLEET CONVERSION ECONOMICS
"There are many machines that are without precision ag equipment on them, and then there are a lot of machines with some type of older precision technology on them-nothing similar to what is available today," said Paul Welbig, marketing manager for Raven Industries.



Welbig said fleet conversion so that every applicator owned by an ag retailer is similarly precision equipped began about two years ago as the economics for ag retailers turned positive. Fleet conversion has been an active market. Fleet conversion also coincided with the technology showing definite payback and allowing a competitive advantage for keeping and acquiring customers.



Additionally, the preaching about precision ag being an advantage has been heard by more farmers who pay the bill for custom application.



"After they (ag retailers) decide to upgrade a couple machines to see how everything works out, then there is a decision point of upgrading the whole fleet," Welbig said. "They want a common platform across the fleet. They don't want too much variability in the machines because operators move from machine to machine and for simplifying support in operation."



But fleet conversion doesn't stop with a one-time installation of new equipment. "This is technology that has a fairly short lifecycle. So, within two or three years there will be a lot of new and better things out there. That leads to the customer case of, 'I have this product, and I like it, but the new one does more and I like it better.' If the financials are good, then the decision to upgrade is made," Welbig added.



The upgrades aren't a big expense compared to the original fleet conversion, note precision ag company marketing managers. "Twice a year, we have a free update that a customer can download from our Web site. New features get added, and if there are any fixes, those get added with the new firmware releases," said Dave King, marketing manager for Ag Leader.



"We're continually adding new products, and you can add them as you see fit to your equipment and operation. We are constantly updating our firmware to make it better, faster and having more features," he said.

AFTER MARKET VS. OEM INSTALLATION
Several precision ag companies have a split of after market installations and OEM installations. For Norac, Sveum said, sales are a strong mix of after market and OEM direct. Precision ag equipment companies recognize advantages of maintaining close contact and business agreements with OEMs. "We intend to continue to focus on growing our OEM direct sales as we also develop our after market. Success in the after market leads to success with the OEM, so both channels are important," he said.



"The original equipment manufacturers' main focus has been to design and manufacture the best machines possible, and they haven't wanted to invest a large amount of their resources in developing precision equipment," said Welbig.



John Deere has been the only OEM that has decided to develop their own completely proprietary precision ag systems, breaking away from offering precision equipment manufactured by outside companies.



Precision companies such as Norac, Raven and Ag Leader have been around many years-when precision ag was in its infancy. And in the beginning, OEM dealers were the main outlets for selling precision ag equipment. That has changed over the years, although such dealers are in the mix of sales outlets.



"As Ag Leader has evolved, we have developed more OEM relationships over the years and supplied more OEMs with products. We still sell through dealers, but the types of dealers have changed quite a bit from the beginning of the company 17 years ago," said King.



King described the distributor/dealer channels that leading precision ag equipment companies use today. Those include entrepreneurial companies only involved in precision ag equipment sales and consulting, co-ops and ag retailers, seed dealers with precision ag as a side line, major full-line equipment dealers and short-line equipment dealers.



Welbig, who works for a granddaddy company of precision ag development and manufacturing-30 years in the business-said, "A new product will usually be released in the after market quicker because it is a retrofit market, and then there is recognized demand by the OEM from customers who want that new product in their machine."



In a few months, the upgrade or new product will be offered on equipment of OEMs that have business relationships with specific precision ag companies.



Sveum said, "At the end of the day, regardless of how the equipment is made available to the customer, the buyer is going to purchase the equipment he thinks works best for him. If he can order it right from the manufacturer as an option, he'll do that, but if he has to order it without precision ag equipment and purchase those components after market to get the product he wants, then he will do it.



But the bottom line is that he wants the equipment in his cab that is the best performing in the field."



EXTRA SERVICE WITH AFTER MARKET SALES
After market installation is a less complex option than it might seem because each company produces installation kits with step by step instructions and pictures.

"When a new machine comes out, we go take a look at it, draw up the specifications, create the parts and assemble an installation kit. We can put together kits without working closely with the OEM, although we prefer to work as closely as possible with them to design kits," King said.



Support after the fact is extremely important, noted the marketing managers, and it is the larger precision equipment companies that can finance having extensive staffing in the home office and in the field to provide service.



To be a major precision ag company requires a major level of customer service staffing. Ties-ins with other company's distribution and service system, such as with AGCO's Ag-Chem or Case IH for example, can help reduce some service staff needs.



The marketing managers said new precision products will continue to come onto the market, and new companies will enter the ag industry, but their survival will depend on innovation, quality and service. Welbig said, "I think we'll continue to see new precision ag companies sprout up. It is an interesting and innovative industry that is going to draw entrepreneurs into it."