Farmers like Marshall Newhouse are used to making equipment repairs on the fly, particularly during a busy season such as planting.
But many had to improvise this season as supply chain issues created a shortage of some parts and long wait times for others.
So, when Newhouse found out he couldn’t get a new planter disc blade for weeks in the middle of the season, he ended up going to a machine shop to build another one.
“We’ve gotten used to taking the (part) information in (to tractor supply stores) and they have the part on hand or can order it and get it in a timely fashion,” said Newhouse, a FarmWeek CropWatcher. “This year, I’ve heard more than once, everything is backordered.”
What’s causing local shortages of some equipment and parts? The story is quite similar to what’s driving everything from historically high lumber prices to fuel shortages and subsequent price inflation.
“We’re dealing with a lot of issues at the same time,” said Curt Blades, senior vice president of agriculture services and forestry for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). “Demand (for equipment) is higher than it’s been in some time, but the real driver across all manufacturing is supply chain shortages.
“The pandemic created supply chain disruptions all across the world,” he continued. “We’re seeing it in shortages of transportation (due to a lack of truck drivers), steel and labor. It’s going to take a couple months or longer to work through the problems.”
Meanwhile, historically high crop prices this year combined with low interest rates continue to spur equipment sales, thus further pressuring the market.
Total farm tractor sales the first four months of the year increased 39% compared to the same time last year, while combine sales climbed 9% during the same time, AEM reported.
“We’re looking at some really good (sales) numbers,” Blades said. “We were operating in a replacement market the last five years. But, as we saw the storm clouds pass (due in part to higher commodity prices), it pointed to farmer attitudes being positive and investments in capital equipment.”
A key driver of the surge in tractor sales also stems from more rural lifestyle consumers and suburban landowners making purchases during the pandemic. Sales of under-40 horsepower tractors are up 43% through April this year compared to a 12% increase in four-wheel drive tractors.
Strong demand continues in the used equipment market as well and caused some farmers near retirement to list equipment sooner than planned to take advantage of the supply shortage, according to Mark Stock, CEO of Big Iron online auctions.
“Because of COVID, we had a spike in attendance of online auctions,” Stock told the RFD Radio Network. “Now that there’s a shortage of equipment you can’t get new from the dealer, we’re seeing another spike for people wanting to buy (used) equipment.”
Supply shortages and high prices could also play a role in thefts of equipment parts, with GPS units among the key targets.
The McHenry County Sheriff’s Office put out a warning to farmers last month after a number of GPS units were stolen from tractors in northeast Illinois, particularly John Deere Starfire GPS receivers. Thefts of those units have been reported from the U.S. and Canada to the United Kingdom.
“People have taken to flying drones to find equipment (parked in rural settings),” said Newhouse, who has a John Deere GPS unit. “Whenever we’re off the farm, the GPS units are locked in the cabs or taken home with us.”
John Deere attempted to deter thefts of its GPS units by adding an enhancement to the user interface of the Starfire 6000 receiver, which uses a code that only provides access to owners of the device.