Day 4 - Wednesday
theme: Mechanization; Animal breeding
Today, the two themes the class learned about both involved cutting edge advancements in agricultural technology. The first theme was mechanization, which was illustrated to the class with a guided tour of the John Deere manufacturing plant in Ankeny, Iowa. The second theme was animal breeding and to accomplish this task the class met the Nichols Farms family in Anita, Iowa. The success of both of these enterprises is, in part, attributable to developing and strategically implementing new technologies.
Stop One: John Deere - Des Moines Works Ankeny, Iowa
The first stop was at the Ankeny John Deere factory in Iowa. Upon entering the plant, we were issued security guest passes and informed we were on video surveillance, which indicated John Deere's strict adherence to safety and security regulations.
The tour began with a short film about the facility's history. The original use of the facility was an ammunition factory where they produced approximately 8 million shells per day; to illustrate how many shells this is, it required 11 boxcars to be shipped by train. Upon the conclusion of the Second World War, John Deere purchased the property on October 1st 1947. John Deere then converted the 560-acre facility to produce farm machinery instead of ammunition.
After the film, we boarded a wagon for a tour of the facility. Currently, the factory produces cotton pickers, sprayers and some tillage equipment. The sprayers produced range from the smallest model being the JD 4630, which may retail for $165,000 and the largest sprayer being the JD 4940 model that sells for $374,000. The cotton pickers were much more expensive, ranging up to $770,000 and weighing up to 80,000lbs. The cotton pickers are the most expensive piece of equipment that John Deere produces.
While mechanization is the product that John Deere provides to the farmer, they also use increasing levels of mechanization and technology within their own facilities. At our first stop we saw a precision laser cutting system which cuts all the steel used in the plant. Our tour then moved on to the welding area. Welding being an area, which John Deere is seeking to increase mechanization by increasing the number of robotic welding units within the next year. Currently, 340 welders manually complete the majority of the welding at this facility. This will ultimately decrease the number of welders required at the plant. This is a historic trend at this location, as in the 1950's the plant employed approximately 20,000 workers and now the plant has only 2000 workers. The result of this level of mechanization is that a cotton harvester could be produced from start to finish in as little as 9 days. At this John Deere plant there is a state-of-the-art painting station.
This includes the use of powdered paint that is negatively charged to increase the adhesion to the implement. The painting facility requires specific humidity and temperature control for best results. Finally, the painting booth has 98% efficiency as any spilt paint can be collected and reused. The two coat painting system along with oven drying rotation provides damage protection and therefore higher resale value of used equipment.
The factory also uses a just-in-time delivery system with parts coming from within the State, plus Germany, Italy and Mexico. The major advantage of just-in-time delivery is that John Deere is not required to have a warehouse.
Upon leaving the factory, it was clear to the class that John Deere is a world leader in farm machinery. This position has clearly been achieved by adaptability and actively responding to consumer demand. High levels of mechanization and technology have enabled John Deere to be at the forefront of agriculture today.
Stop Two: Nichols Farm Anita, Iowa
After driving down dirt roads without air conditioning for 6 miles, the class arrived at the Nichols Farm. The reception at this stop was completely different than John Deere. Instead of being met with security badges we met with the Nichols family and the contagious humour of Dave Nichols.
The Nichols Farm is centered around family involvement, passion for animals, and adopting new technologies with industry advancements which has enabled them to grow to be one of the top breeders in the country.
The Nichols Farm consists of over 6000 acres with farms in multiple states. Their herd consists of 600 Angus and 250 Simmental cows and this year 1120 calves were breed. Last year they sold 480 bulls to their customers to help improve the customer's breeding stock. While the majority of their customers are from within a 250-mile radius around the farm, they have also sold bulls as far away as Japan.
The farm concentrates on using the most up-to-date technology to produce the best breeding stock. The farm has goals, which include increasing feed efficiency, increasing disease resistance and increasing their database for each animal. When maximizing feed efficiency, Nichols Farms was able to achieve up to 6 lbs a day weight gain which is one of the best stats in the world. By increasing the information in their database, Nichols Farms is able to diagnose and isolate genetic mutations to prevent them from remaining and reappearing in their herd.
Through pioneering new technologies such as muscle tissue samples and ultrasounds, Nichols Farms has been able to introduce greater understanding of beef breeding. While Nichols Farms has a long-standing research relationship with Iowa State University, it has been required of the Farm in the past to raise their own funds, up to $300,000, for research projects such as the introduction of ultrasound to beef breeders. The farm database is comprised of 90 different indicators that help them breed superior cattle based on the compatibility of each parent animal. They are also interested in expanding this already large database and therefore continually add indicators to their database.
Marketing at the Nichols Farm consists of annual on-farm auctions, catalogues and their website. The success of their marketing is illustrated by a 13,000-clientele mailing list and also this past year having sold 480 bulls which were all black and polled because this is what the market is demanding. They are meeting the market demand as illustrated on opening day of their on-farm auction, which is the last Saturday of January, they regularly have 200 buyers present.
Dave Nichols' advice for young farmers is that this is the most exciting time for agriculture that we have ever known and that there are three pillars, which young farmers should follow. They are i) a positive environment for works and clients, ii) long term planning and iii) early adoption of new technology.
In conclusion, it is clear that John Deere and the Nichols Farms are both leaders in their industries due to their receptivity and ability to adapt new technologies to ever-changing scenarios. Both stops showed us that specialization is important and that a farmer need not specialize in every aspect of their farm but simply make use of those who have specialized in various industries.