The pandemic slows the availability of equipment parts

By Christine Souza

A Sacramento Valley equipment dealer says most John Deere parts were well stocked, though overseas parts, such as rubber tracks, were sometimes harder to come by.

Photo/Ching Lee

For generations, farmers have been known for their ingenuity and ability to “MacGyver” what they need to get the job done. But during the global pandemic, which has shut down manufacturing facilities and disrupted the supply chain, farmers are reporting delays in acquiring some needed parts and equipment.

Tulare County citrus grower John Kirkpatrick described the parts and equipment as “the heart and lungs of the operation; without them there would be no harvest.”

In Siskiyou County, hay farmer Brandon Fawaz had trouble tracking down a fairly common hydraulic motor, which he planned to use to drive an auger to unload fertilizer from a truck and into a spreader. The engine he needed is built in Mexico and he learned that the manufacturing plant was closed due to the pandemic.

“I was told that due to the virus, production was behind schedule and estimated production would be weeks away, in the latter part of September, and therefore to plan for unavailability of parts,” Fawaz said.

He said he finally bought a replacement engine, but not the brand name engine he usually buys.

Solano County farmer Joe Martinez, who grows almonds, walnuts and prunes, said suppliers had very low inventory and many “off the shelf” pieces now needed to be ordered, adding, ” We’ve never had problems like this before.”

Chuck Hice, assistant manager of McFarland-based All State Ag Parts, which sells new, used and rebuilt tractor and farm parts, said he was aware of the delays.

“Without a doubt, we’re having trouble getting parts of Mexico out, and it’s taking two to three times longer because of COVID,” Hice said.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers, a Wisconsin-based trade association that represents equipment manufacturers, said the equipment farmers depend on requires thousands of parts, components and materials, including steel, aluminum, electronics, rubber and insulation. AEM said manufacturing plants in Mexico closed in March and April as the Mexican government decided how to protect employees during the pandemic.

“There are a fair amount of parts and components that come from Mexico, and thousands of parts go into an agricultural machine and each company sources from different places,” said Alex Russ, director of government relations at AEM. . “Not only did this disruption slow down manufacturing, it also prevented some manufacturers from being able to operate in the United States, as they could not source parts and components elsewhere.”

While manufacturers in the United States and Canada have been able to obtain “essential” designations for their operations, Russ said, the Mexican government has delayed how it will deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The pandemic really destabilized North American supply chains as manufacturers tried to secure ‘essential’ designations and ensure their suppliers were able to continue manufacturing as well,” Russ said.

Mexico has since issued clear guidelines for manufacturers to operate. Ensuring all North American factories are operational, Russ said, is especially important given the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trade deal that took effect in July.

Another challenge affecting parts and equipment supply, Russ said, is limited supply due to “just-in-time” manufacturing, which means factories build equipment based on customer demand and don’t stock not many additional parts and components.

Tulare County dairy farmer Tom Barcellos said he hasn’t had a serious problem acquiring critical parts, although he is aware of weeks-long delays in some cases. At first, he said, there was extra waiting time for some dairy products, but he remembers one vendor saying, “If everyone keeps calm, then it’s fine.”

What helped, Barcellos said, was using “John Deere, Caterpillar, Ford, Peterbilt – main brand products that are pretty common.”

Jeremy Bivert, corporate parts manager at Valley Truck & Tractor Co. in Woodland, which sells John Deere products and other lines, said: “Some of the other lines are having more difficulty, but when it comes to the John Deere line, approximately 98% of the parts we sell are delivered within 24 hours.John Deere has a parts warehouse in the Midwest where they keep tens of thousands of most parts.

Items that are more difficult to acquire, Bivert said, include parts that come from overseas, such as disc blades or other ground-engaging equipment, or rubber tracks for tractors — one piece. that John Deere does not manufacture itself.

He said John Deere was proactive early in the COVID-19 response, adding that locations were increasing inventory levels, “so instead of keeping a three-month supply of parts, we would be keeping a five- or six months, just in case part of the supply channel is late.”

Preparing for 2021, Bivert said his business would start early.

“Usually we place our orders in November for spring tractors, but now we’re saying, ‘Let’s do this now before September, to give us a few extra months of cushion,'” he said.

AGCO, a global manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment, announced in late July that all of its factories remained open, with strong orders for spring 2021.

“We continue to face a demanding environment to manage our manufacturing, supply chain and aftermarket operations,” said AGCO Chairman and CEO Martin Richenhagen. “Furthermore, end-market demand has been negatively impacted by the pandemic, but is proving resilient as farmers seek to replace their aging fleet.”

Based on the impact of COVID-19 on manufacturing supply chains, AEM predicted that the pandemic will change the way manufacturers operate in the future.

“Our concern is that we really need to prepare for future disruptions to North American supply chains,” Russ said. “It seems logical that the US, Mexican and Canadian governments would have some kind of task force or mechanism for manufacturers to provide government decision makers with real-time information, in order to reduce disruptions.”

(Christine Souza is deputy editor of Ag Alert. She can be reached at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit should be given to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this article.