BEEBE, Ark. – Nearly 50,000 farms in the Natural State rely on machinery like tractors and combines to get their crops from soil to store, but thanks in part to a unionized John Deere manufacturers strike, that equipment is getting harder to find – and even harder to accurately fix.
Some dealerships have already been seeing delays, from supplies and parts for repairs – to the complete machines themselves. With a harvest season just kicking off, farmers are worried about the possibility of a shortage of equipment, something that could mean a total stop to their cash flow if something breaks without a replacement.
Those at ASU Beebe know a thing or two about tractors; they have a unique program that trains students how to keep the equipment running and work at an agricultural equipment dealership. Their specialty and partner is John Deere, now in short supply. The university has even experienced a delay for itself.
“Our tractor’s been back-ordered now twice, and it may yet still be a couple of months,” explained Roger Moore, CFO of ASU Beebe.
Moore says the issue is two-fold; the strike itself and international supply shortages that mean vital components aren’t being sent to manufacturing sites in the U.S. The concern is if a machine breaks during harvest, the clock starts ticking before it’s too late.
“There’s a finite amount of time where [a crop] can stand in a field before it begins to rot,” Moore said.
For the John Deere agriculture technology students, that means working with what they have; newer John Deere models are sent to them by the company on loan. Advanced instructor Stephen Yokley explains that usually, the organization replaces the tractors every 300 days once training is complete. But now with shortages and delays, the equipment can be kept by the college indefinitely until new supplies are produced.
But the workaround isn’t something smaller farms have. Their only option is to plan ahead for the season. Yokley recommends, “anything they think may fail through harvest season or they want repaired before next planting season, order the parts now.”