‘Everything is bigger and faster’: Three farm machinery dealers look back at changes in the industry


SALEM, Ohio — Since the Farm Science Review is celebrating its 50th year, we started thinking about all the machinery and equipment changes the farm community has seen in those 50 years.

So we set out to talk to longtime equipment dealers to find out has impacted the farm machinery industry the most. You may be surprised at what we discovered.

We interviewed Ralph Witmer, owner of Witmer’s Farm Equipment near Columbiana, Ohio; Alan Cope, of Cope’s Farm Equipment, Alliance, Ohio; and Pat Zehentbauer, of Gause Farm Equipment, Guilford Lake, Ohio.

Q. What is the biggest change you have seen in farm machinery in your lifetime?

Alan Cope: The technology, the AMS System.

“Auto-tracking and auto-steering is becoming common place on farms.”

It’s the technology revolution. “Combines are using auto-tracking and farmers are planting with GPS.”

Ralph Witmer: There are fewer farms in general, but the farms have increased acreage.

“It makes it a whole different way of doing business for farm machinery dealers than from years ago,” said Witmer.

Pat Zehentbauer: The size of the tractors and the technology involved in them has been the biggest change.

She said when computerization occurred, it changed the farming industry.

Q. What is the biggest success you’ve witnessed in farm machinery?

Cope: Large tractors with front end suspension have been a big success for the John Deere company. They are great for tillage work, spreading fertilizer and hauling tankers behind them.

“Everyone loves it,” said Cope.

They also come with variable transmissions, which work great in conjunction with hauling or pulling equipment across a field.

Witmer: One success has been with the Fendt tractor. It is precision built and is high tech. It offers outstanding reliability with increased operator comfort and efficiency. It also has a transmission that has no shifting. It automatically reduces the RMPs in the motor to make it more efficient.

The air ride cabs and seats in tractors along with the climate control and hydraulic front end also make a huge difference.

Zehentbauer: Every year , there is a different success in ag machinery, which makes it difficult to determine the biggest.

However, the lease money that has came into the market place has made a big difference for farmers to upgrade and purchase new equipment.

Q. What did you think would fail and it actually ended up working?

Cope: One thing that I was hesitant about was AMS Systems and whether or not they would work. Now, there is no doubt they are the way to go.

In fact, Cope’s Farm Equipment sold its first RTK system to Richard Thomas, a farmer in Trumbull County. The radio signal bounces off the grain leg and can tell tractors with the technology where to go within 1 inch of 30 feet. The signal is good for a radius of 12 miles. This means the owner of the tower can sell subscriptions to area farmers within that radius.

“Now these types of technologies are common place with big producers,” he said.

Witmer: One of the challenges faced by equipment dealers is the necessity to sell the equipment before it hits the dealer’s lot.

Witmer said it is necessary with tillage equipment because there are so many choices for what a farmer may want to deal with the field and the size of equipment is only increasing which makes it hard to keep a steady stock on hand.

“It’s a sign of the times; every farmers is different and you don’t know what their needs are going to be,” said Witmer.

Zehentbauer: The loss of plows in the fields. Now, farmers have switched to tillage equipment instead.

“No one plows any more,” said Zehentbauer.

She added it took awhile for it to become popular but once the large tillage equipment and tractors hit the fields, farmers made the switch.

Q. What has changed the most in ag machinery in the last 50 years?

Cope: The size, comfort and how user friendly the equipment is now than in the past.

“The smallest combine today is the biggest one we sold 45 years ago,” said Cope.

The best innovation in agriculture has not been machinery, but the seed varieties producers are using, he added. The higher yields have led to bigger equipment, which has helped to develop the equipment to its maximum potential to increase capacity.

For example, Cope Farm Equipment already has orders for one 32-row corn planter and three 24-row corn planters for the spring of 2013.

Witmer: The biggest changes started in America’s heartland and has spread across the country. The innovations in agriculture equipment are what is making it possible for fewer farms to produce more now than ever.

The auto-ride and automatic row shutoffs for corn planters and auto guide for tractors and combines allow farmers to get more done.

“You don’t have to take your hands off the steering wheel to get the work done,” said Witmer. “It’s a sign of the times.”

Witmer said farmers are going to have to use auto guide systems and other automatic systems in order to compete.

“That’s the way the competitive farmer is going to have to do it in order to gain a place in the market,” said Witmer.

Zehentbauer: “Everything is bigger and faster,” said Zehentbauer.

She added that when she entered the business no one would have dreamed of dragging a 40-foot piece of tillage equipment behind the tractor, and now that is a common practice in the fields.

Another change, she added, is the increase in education younger farmers are getting, and farmers are eager to change the way things are done to improve productivity and efficiency.


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