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Rate Your Big Iron
By Dan Miller
Monday, June 1, 2020 5:09PM CDT

Editor's Note:

This story has been updated from the original story that was published in the June 2020 issue of Progressive Farmer.

**

Farmers listen to farmers when they make equipment-buying decisions. Progressive Farmer's new Reader Insights equipment surveys gives life to that wisdom. This inaugural Reader Insights study measures owner satisfaction with tractors.

Progressive Farmer built this study -- and future studies -- in collaboration with SOCAL Approach Marketing and Consulting Group. Tractor owners supplied detailed information on 7,062 tractors in this survey. Nearly 2,000 surveys were returned.

"This is the first grassroots survey of its kind, and Reader Insights is providing critical information about owner satisfaction with their tractors. In short, farmers are supplying information that will benefit other farmers," said Gregg Hillyer, editor in chief of Progressive Farmer. Data were collected on tractors in three horsepower ranges: 1,397 large tractors (236 hp and above), 3,394 medium (100 to 235 hp) and 2,271 small (less than 100 hp).

On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being not at all likely, and 5 being extremely likely) 53% of the tractors evaluated received a rating of 5, indicating their owners were extremely likely to purchase another tractor from the same brand if they were to make that decision again.

Similarly, about half of all tractors' farmers indicated they were extremely likely to purchase any product built by that brand, as well as recommend the brand to others. About 20% of tractors received a rating of 4 on these measures. An additional 20% of tractors received a rating of 3 or below.

"This is interesting because, for as expensive as these items are, we still have a large percentage of all tractors receiving a less-than-totally-satisfied response," said George Owens, principal consultant at SOCAL. "In theory, this gives an opportunity for brands to potentially (take away) sales from other brands."

THE DEALER FACTOR

"I like this survey," said Stuart Sanderson, of Henderson Farms, of Madison, Alabama. He has purchased tractors from Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee, in addition to his own TriGreen Equipment John Deere dealership, with 21 locations throughout the Southeast. "I hope the dealers would have reason to use this survey to (improve) their own database and marketing approach."

Farmers who answered the survey say dealer relationships, parts supply and support are critical in purchasing decisions. "Dealer support has as much to do with satisfaction as tractor performance," said one farmer who completed the survey.

Nearly three-quarters of all tractors are purchased in part because of the dealer, the Reader Insights survey found.

Stephen Lohr, of Rockingham, Virginia, has Kubota, New Holland and AGCO dealers all within 30 minutes of his farm. But he shops his local John Deere dealership, James River Equipment. "For me, the dealer relationship is 50% of the purchase," he said. And service. "I think Deere has one of the best parts systems out there."

However, Lohr doesn't hesitate to match a tractor's capabilities with need. He purchased a Kubota 5800 HST because it was a better fit for his poultry houses.

Thirty-six percent of tractors were purchased because their owners said a good relationship with their dealer is very important, 34% somewhat important, 13% neither important nor unimportant, 2% somewhat unimportant, and 7% not important at all.

Kevin Ruyle farms 5,000 acres with family outside of Oxford, Kansas. He needs technology support. "Too many (technology) classes end up being sales pitches," he said. "I need classes on technology for rookies, virtual classes or YouTube classes that walk you through the systems. If I can see it done, I can do it."

Forty-eight percent of tractors received a 5 rating for overall satisfaction. Another 30% received a 4 rating, and about 12% received a 3 or below. "This shows there are opportunities for brands to gain market share," SOCAL's Owens said.

Respondents to this survey tend to hold onto their tractors, with the possible exception of large-tractor owners. Most large-tractor owners say their tractors are one to 10 years old. Medium-sized tractor owners say their tractors range in age from six years to more than 10 years old. Small-tractor owners have maintained their units for more than 10 years.

Ruyle manages his south-central Kansas soils with no-till. "We don't need big power tractors. But, we do look for horsepower, comfort and resale." Twenty-seven percent of tractors received a rating of 5 for cab comfort (9% gave their cabs a 1 or 2). Only 33% of tractors received a 5 for their capability to do expected work (8% received a 1 or 2).

The Reader Insights tractor survey also explored technology and its repair. One-fifth of the tractors evaluated received a 5 rating for their advanced technologies (9% gave tractor technology a 1 or 2). Just 16% received a 5 for warranty coverage (about 13% received a 1 or 2 rating). "Tractors with technology seem to have higher maintenance costs," one owner said.

It is important to note that farmers evaluated tractors of all ages -- bought new or used -- so warranty converge might be less than otherwise expected.

Owens found these reliability responses interesting. "There is huge variability that shows while tractor owners do appreciate many components and facets of their tractors, they certainly don't appreciate everything about them -- namely advanced features possibly due to usability or durability concerns."

SURVEYS ARE IN THE FIELD

This Reader Insights survey on tractors is the first of several equipment surveys in 2020. The program will culminate in an awards ceremony recognizing the best of the best in several categories during the DTN Ag Summit, Dec. 7-9 in Chicago.

The next two Reader Insights machinery surveys are now on their way to a randomly selected sample of Progressive Farmer readers. Reader Insights is a first-of-its-kind survey series designed to give voice to your opinions about your farming equipment. If you receive a survey, we encourage you to complete it.

Dan Miller can be reached at dan.miller@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @DMillerPF


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