Machinery Chatter
Jim Patrico Progressive Farmer Senior Editor

Wednesday 05/21/14

Global Workshop

Sometimes things just fall into place.

Journalists from 21 countries watched Krone hay and forage equipment go through the paces in a field in Winterswijk, The Netherlands, last week. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer photo by Jim Patrico)

For a couple of months I've been doing research on an article about shortline manufacturers and the international marketplace, which is to appear in The Progressive Farmer magazine.

As if by magic, Krone -- makers of top of the line hay and forage equipment -- invited me to an international press workshop near their factory in Spelle, Germany. Voila, as the French say. Last week I found myself scribbling notes next to 120 journalists from 21 countries, mostly European but also some with passports from Asian countries including Japan and China. Three of us came from the U.S. and, without meaning to sound pretentious, we came in for special mention during officials' speeches, probably because North America is Krone's largest market outside of Germany.

Krone's press workshop was designed to show off new models of its tedders, hay rakes, balers and forage harvesters. It did so at a field day just across the Netherlands border in Winterswijk. The day was blustery and wet, but ag journalists of all nationalities knew enough to bring boots and raingear. They traveled in packs with their designated translators. Contingents of Ukrainians and Russians ignored political differences long enough to watch hay rakes and balers do their line dance in the wetter-than-they-should-be fields.

Of particular interest to us North Americans were two new models of Krone's signature forage harvester, the Big X. These guys range in horsepower from 480 to a whopping 1,100 and can chew up a cornfield like football players eating steak at a summer training table. Krone introduced 480- and 580-hp versions of the Big X with U.S. producers in mind. The current 700-, 850- and 1,100-hp versions appeal mainly to large dairies and custom cutters, and Krone wants to tap into the smaller farmer market as well.

I'll write more later about the equipment in this space and in the magazine. But machinery aside, the trip was valuable to me because it filled in some holes and reinforced some ideas for me about shortliners and international markets.

First, like many North American shortliners Krone is above all a family business. It started with Bernhard Krone and his blacksmith shop in 1908 and has continued through several generations of Krones. (All the heads of the company have been named Bernard, including the current president.) They display their family pride and their family name on every piece of equipment they make.

Shortliners like Krone are innovators. Without stockholders to whom they have to answer, shortliners are willing to take risks and pursue unique paths. Krone, for instance, once experimented with a tractor line.

Many shortliners keep their base close to home but have found international markets extremely valuable. Krone is expanding for the first time into China via an agreement with Chinese importer Hahee. Expanding the market beyond domestic borders not only creates new customers, it helps even out the bumps in economic roads for shortliners.

Krone officials, for instance, told us the unrest along the Ukraine/Russian border has resulted is a halt of sales to two lucrative markets. In the meantime, potential new sales to China and steady sales elsewhere have meant Krone's bottom line remains healthy.

Finally, Krone and other shortliners listen to their customers in different parts of the world. The ideas they glean from such conversations help them tailor products for specific markets. They also help their engineers tweak existing products for familiar markets.

All that said, this trip to Germany reinforced my belief that it really is a small world and shortliners taken together are really large players.

Posted at 6:59AM CDT 05/21/14 by Jim Patrico
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