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Keeping farmers going: Farm implement dealers working out in the field

Kraig DeJong stands alongside a Case IH combine in the yard at Arnold’s of Willmar. DeJong has grown with the business and understands the importance of service and keeping up with technology. Tribune photo by Ron Adams1 / 3
John Nelson, owner of Schlauderaff Implement in Litchfield, poses alongside a New Holland tractor. Tribune photo by Ron Adams2 / 3
Harvest season is an important time for farmers, with no time for “down time.” Implement dealers across the region know the importance of keeping the equipment in the field running during this “make or break” time. Tribune file photo3 / 3

By Carlienne A. Frisch

Freelance writer

Time is a precious commodity when a farmer’s field equipment coughs, sputters or just plain quits — especially during planting or harvest.

That’s when the farm implement dealer’s service staff put on their superhero persona, go directly to the troublesome machine, which may be some distance from the dealership, and get the machine up and running. That’s how it worked for Austin Blad, who grows corn and soybeans in both Meeker and Renville counties.

“In the spring we were down by Hector, planting corn, and had problems with the tractor,” Blad said. “A mechanic came down at 9 p.m. from Schlauderaff Implement in Litchfield and took care of it right away. They have a great service department and are very committed to their customers. They treat us really well. Every time we call, they send someone out instantly and solve the problem right away.”

Scott Neuhaus, the service and warranty manager at Schlauderaff Implement, a family-owned New Holland dealership, says that every day, they have three servicemen on the road, helping farmers in the field, and five in the shop.

Providing onsite service and repair is perhaps the most important part of being in the farm implement business. At Arnold’s of Willmar, a family-owned Case IH dealership, the service staff prides itself on serving customers like Paul Damhof whenever and wherever needed. Damhof, who farms about 10 miles south of Willmar, has a 200-head dairy farm and grows alfalfa, corn, wheat and navy beans.

His custom harvesting service makes onsite equipment repair crucial. Damhof began custom harvesting in 1995, when he bought his first combine from Kraig DeJong, now the general manager at Arnold’s of Willmar.

“Anytime we’ve ever had an issue with our equipment, they’ve come out with a service truck, and they always have the equipment I need on the truck,” Damhof says. “Timing has never been an issue. I enjoy working with their service technicians, who are up to date on technology with precision farming. There’s always just the normal breakdowns, but with everything electronic, if just a simple electrical component goes out, we need help. The technicians hook their laptop computer into the combine and diagnose the problem.”

The team is well-orchestrated, Damhof said, and well-rounded and diversified, from the sales staff to parts technicians to DeJong himself.

“I respect Kraig because he has seen all parts of the business,” Damhof said.

With an education in both ag production and ag business, DeJong began working at Arnold’s of Willmar (one of six Arnold’s locations in Minnesota) in the parts department, then went into sales, and eventually into management. His experience is valuable in managing the business as it partially rebuilds after sustaining a fire in the shop area last June.

“We have multiple service people available 24 hours a day, and would like to hire even more quality service people,” DeJong said. “Service is the big reason we have our inspection programs. All winter long we do preventive maintenance so when it’s show time, it’s ready. We’d rather work on your combine before you need it so there’s less down time for our customers. Fall is busier than spring, but we’re busy year-round. During harvest we do hundreds of repairs on site, in the field.”

Even as the company has grown, an emphasis on customer service has always been a priority, DeJong says.

“It’s just like farming more land — the more you take on, the more you get as you grow,” DeJong said. “It’s a sign of running a good company and having a good product. We’re big enough, but not too big. Customers are not just a number. We know customers by name.”

Haug Implement Company, a John Deere dealership with locations in Willmar and Litchfield, also provides service-on-demand in the fields. Paal Haug, the fourth generation of family members leading the 95-year-old company, grew up in the business and began working full time in 1992 after obtaining a business degree.

Haug has a full fleet of service vehicles, with six trucks fully equipped.

“To keep people going in the spring and fall, we have extended service hours, and we have parts people on call 24/7,” Haug said. “Equipment that needs extensive repairs we haul in to one of our shops, either in Willmar or Litchfield.”

Preventive maintenance is, of course, the key to keeping a machine operating at its best. Many farmers take advantage of John Deere credit programs to get maintenance done off-season and then pay for the work after harvest.

“That’s how we try to keep our customers up and running, and we even out our work load,” Haug said. “In our service inspection programs, we go through a checklist, front to back, then provide an estimate. Our service technician walks through the inspection with the customer, and makes recommendations on what to repair. If repairs are made to our recommendations, and the customer has a problem with the machine during the next growing season, we provide a free loaner for the customer if we can’t have the equipment up and running within 24 hours.”

Haug does pre-season inspections all year long, but late summer is when farmers start to pay close attention to what needs to be done to their equipment, Haug said.

“If a farmer’s crop grows well through the summer, if it looks promising, it influences how much money he will make and how much he plans to spend,” Haug said. “He doesn’t know that in July. We always have the push of fixing equipment before harvest, and the parts counter is busy for those who are doing their own work. After harvest, there are lots of parts and repairs needed.”