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Leasing Program Allows Farmers to Test-Drive Tech

The transition from teaching students to teaching farmers has let Joe Sinkula relate many of the tips and tricks he picked up from other instructors at Fox Valley Technical College. As the integrated solutions manager at John Deere dealer Riesterer & Schnell, Inc., he still uses that advice in customer clinics and employee training events.

An educator and trainer, Sinkula is well aware of farmers’ worries about the amount of capital it takes to invest in precision ag equipment and programs. 

“A lot of the concern is with return on investment,” he says. “Some farmers see an easy return on their investment; while others want it to show more return. There is a strong market for used equipment to help minimize how much capital is needed to purchase the equipment.”

Precision agriculture has been a growing part of the 14-store dealership. For four years, Sinkula has helped expand its technology solutions team (which covers central and northeastern Wisconsin) from three to eight people.

He shares how those additional boots on the ground, along with an innovative program that alleviates the sticker shock of precision ag, are helping farmers find the value in ag technology.

SF: How has precision ag become an important part of farming today?

JS: There are two avenues of precision farming: automation and data collection. We have seen reliance on automation through auto steer and synchronizing two machines at harvest. More recently, we’ve seen a lot of data collection. Farmers now need to figure out how to analyze all of that data to help them manage their operations.

SF: How does Riesterer & Schnell meet the precision ag needs of farmers?

JS: We provide the traditional hardware needed and the network for data storage. Phone support is included in the base package, as well as up to 10 hours of on-farm support. We have data management, but we’re not data analysts. We can organize the data and store good records on chemical use, planting, and harvest, as well as provide operator training for the equipment.

SF: Explain the precision ag equipment leasing program Riesterer & Schnell is testing.

JS: The program is a three-year minimum lease. Farmers receive displays, receivers, controllers, and the technology to make everything work. The lease is on a per-acre basis. We give them a quote to use for budgeting and planning ahead. The price is also based on the size of the farm. The nice part about leasing is that they’re kept up to date with the latest equipment and technology.

At the end of the lease, farmers will have the option to either purchase the equipment or continue the lease. The ultimate long-term goal is to minimize fluctuations in investments for in-cab technology while collecting better data that can be used for future business decisions.

SF: How did the leasing program begin?

JS: In 2016, a customer had a mixed fleet of precision ag and wanted everything to work on the same program. It was more financially viable for him to be on John Deere’s GreenStar system and bundle it. 

We had two goals for the farm. First, we had to get it up to date with technology at the lowest cost possible. Second, we had to make sure the farm didn’t fall as far behind again by constantly upgrading equipment over time within the program. 

It took about 18 months to figure out how the leasing program would work. In December 2017 and January 2018, we started two farms on the program. One is running less than 10 systems; the other has more than 25. 

SF: Do you expect any changes in the program moving forward?

JS: It’s too early to tell what kind of replacement will be needed with equipment. We do know it is favorable to have one system to collect good data, especially for farmers who grow specialty crops and need traceability. 

In addition, it’s important for farmers to have a budget number each year, and we do our best to stay within that figure. 

I also think there will be more development with data analysis tools. Farmers are in a holding pattern right now and want to know what they can do with the data being collected.

SF BIO

Name: Joe Sinkula

Hometown: Kewaunee, Wisconsin 

Background: Sinkula began his precision ag career as an AMS consultant with Riesterer & Schnell in 2011. He left in 2013 to teach at Fox Valley Technical College as a precision ag instructor. Two years later, he returned to the dealership to become an integrated solutions manager.

Education: He graduated in 2000 from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with a bachelor of science degree in agricultural business.

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