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Farm Equipment reports:

To view the complete report, click here.

The loyalty that farmers hold for their preferred brand of ag equipment took a sharp turn downward in 2020. Is this a reflection of how they feel today about the equipment itself or are their changing attitudes based on the general malaise in the ag industry?

Since the editors of Farm Equipment and Ag Equipment Intelligence launched the first brand loyalty study of farm machinery in late 2010 and followed it up with subsequent studies in 2014 and 2017, the allegiance and positive perception that farmers held for "their brand" continually grew. In the first study, 63% of farmers considered themselves "brand loyal." This improved in 2014 and 2017 to 69% and 75%, respectively.

This wasn't the case in 2020 as overall brand loyalty to farm equipment took a major step back. The most recent survey of farmers in the same 12 states that were covered in the earlier studies indicates that only 63% of respondents would describe themselves as "brand loyal." This is a 12% drop off in the past 3 years, which returns brand loyalty levels back to those seen in the first study, 10 years earlier.

There appears to be a myriad of reasons for the fall off, but it's difficult to pinpoint a specific cause for this deterioration of brand loyalty. Maybe it's the ongoing doldrums of agriculture that has resulted in low commodity prices and lower farm incomes. Maybe it's the rising cost of new ag machinery. Maybe it's the performance of equipment dealerships. Maybe it's the advanced technology that has added to the cost of new equipment but isn't being fully utilized.

The increased use of electronics and computerization of the equipment has set up battle lines between manufacturers and farmers when it comes to service and repair of their machinery. This probably hasn't helped the relationship between manufacturers and their end-use customers who demand access, which would allow them or independent service providers (rather than dealerships) to work on their equipment.

Referencing a specific manufacturer whose equipment he would not purchase, one farmer said, "[They] are currently taking farmers to court who dare to work on the tractors they own."

In any case, each one or a combination of these factors were mentioned in the comments that farmers offered in the 2020 survey, which was conducted in late March and early April. Most likely the declining brand loyalty score is a reflection of one or more of these, as well as their overall frustration with the challenging conditions in agriculture in general that have lingered for 5 years or more.

One thing that hasn't changed through all four brand loyalty surveys conducted so far is that dealers continue to play a pivotal role in establishing and building loyalty to the brands of equipment they represent. Of the top 5 factors that would cause a farmer to switch brands, the dealer is directly responsible for at least 3 of them: parts availability, repair service, technician specialists.

The one factor that the manufacturer has sole responsibility for when it comes to why a farmer would consider switching equipment brands is product engineering. According to the results of the 2020 Brand Loyalty study, the importance of pricing has become a bigger part of farmers' purchasing decisions. This shouldn't surprise anyone considering the prolonged slump in commodity prices and farmer income. And while the manufacturer establishes the base price of the machinery it produces, the dealer can also influence what the farmer is ultimately asked to pay for new ag equipment.

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