Crop Tour Day 12
Day 12 of our trek through the Midwest had two stops planned. We started the day leaving Altoona, Iowa and making our way to Princeton, Illinois, taking in the sights as we travelled (and maybe sneaking in a few well-deserved naps too). The first stop of the day was Kinze manufacturing, which was a brand-new stop on the Midwest Tour and our only equipment manufacturing stop. Then, our second stop was at one of the tour’s oldest stops, the Whetstine’s family farm, our only swine operation on the tour.
Kinze Manufactuing Plant
The Kinze manufacturing tour started with arriving at the facility in Ladora, Iowa and seeing lots of equipment in the yard. The building we arrived in was the gift shop before being moved to the theater room. From there, we learned the competitive edge Kinze has over the competition and the core values the company has. Kinze is one of the largest agricultural companies in the USA, but their products and manufacturing network are global. The company has produced a variety of agricultural equipment and tractors since its start in 1965. Today the company specializes in planters, grain carts and high-speed discs. Jon Kinzenbaw got this start in a small welding shop where he made agricultural implements repair and modifications for the local farmers. His first production implement was a 13 knife, 30 ft anhydrous ammonia toolbar. From there, he made his first major invention of the single axle grain cart with high flotation tires to speed up harvest. This design has become a common farm implement today. His start in planters came in 1975 from hearing the hassle farmers went through in transporting their wide planters down public roads. His invention of the rear folding planter had sales of 20 in the first year, 80 in the second, leading him to build his first production line manufacturing site. The company employs 850 people globally and has 30 acres under roof at the Ladora location.
One of the main takeaways we got from this tour was that Kinze is an avid innovator. They take pride in producing a quality product for their customers. We learned that Kinze had a lawsuit with John Deere in 1977. Kinze was able to purchase the planter boxes from John Deere from their max emerge planter. The outcome of the lawsuit resulted in Kinze winning and John Deere losing 7 patents. This was a turning point for Kinze as they realized that they didn’t want to rely on anyone else making products for them. Now, almost all of the parts that is needed for their 3 lines of equipment is built in one of their Kinze manufacturing plants. This has been proven to work because any issues with their equipment now is little to none because Kinze is able to produce a quality product. The Kinze team also has a separate engineering team to make innovative decisions for their equipment. Kinze is happy with the 3 products they offer right now and has no plans to expand their product line but would be willing to expand if consumer demand changed for a certain product. Carter, one of the speakers, explained that the reason that they produce high-speed discs was because of an increase in consumer demand for that product. They tailor to the consumers' needs to ensure that they produce a quality product.
Carter and Lauren explained that their employee program at Kinze is like no other. As with everyone else in the world right now, it is hard to find skilled labor. Kinze has implemented multiple programs for high school kids. They offer welding apprenticeships and internships as well as engineering co-ops. With these programs, Kinze will train high school students how to weld in hopes to hire them back after high school. They take the time to train their employees to ensure a quality product is being put out in the world. A typical work week for an employee is 4, 10-hour days, with the opportunity to work overtime on Friday and Saturday if needed. All 850 of Kinze employees rave about this. We also learned that about 60% of their employees are farmers. This is unique to Kinze because how many businesses can say that about their work force? We learned that an entry level job in production starts at $23/ hr. This goes to show the care that Kinze provides their workforce is like no other.
The factory tour started in the museum where we walked underground in the tornado shelter to the fleet garage to start the tour. We first saw where they randomly inspect the planters for quality, the team of about 5 people look over 2-3 planters a day. The plant runs 2 lines with the planters being August to April and grain carts vice versa. The plant is running at full capacity and on August 1 they were still 93 grain carts behind. The plant has overhead lines where a part can be placed on and come back painted black within 2.5 hours. The plant produces their hydraulic cylinders on site because of previous quality issues. Before the in-house production the failure rate of the cylinders was 1 out of 25 compared to the now 1 out of 200. The factory receives 5-7 truckloads of steel a day and tries to run on minimal stock at a time to conserve storage. The last building we saw was where the 3605 planters were being assembled and parked outside for shipping.
The Whetstine’s Family Farm
After visiting the Kinze plant, we travelled to Wellman, Iowa to see the Whetstine family farm, one of the oldest stops on the crop tour. These folks remembered the original RVs that students would drive around, 55 years ago! Upon our arrival we were greeted with a warm welcome by Clint Whetstine, his uncle Larry and father Ed. The Whetstine’s have been farming the land since 1875. The farm is comprised of 110 head of cattle, 11,000 hogs per year and 1500 acres of land. On the land they grow 700 acres of corn, 400 acres of soybeans and the rest is pasture and hay. Their crop rotation consists of 2 years corn, then 1 year of soybeans, which allows them to grow most of their animal feed off the land. The Whetstine’s positive demeanour was contrary to what we expected after the natural disaster that occurred this past spring.
On March 31st, an EF4 tornado with wind speeds of greater than 107 miles per hour (which is 172 km per hour!) hit the area. On the Whetstine’s farm, various structures were damaged or blown away, including 2 of the farmhouses. Clint Whetstine told us about his experience with the tornado. On the day of the tornado, he had just finished vaccinating piglets in the nursery barn. When he arrived at the house after chores, he changed out of work clothes and looked out the window. Unexpectedly, all he saw was dust and debris headed towards him. He ran for cover and when he made it to the basement he looked up and all he saw was sky. The extensive damage from the tornado left behind lots of cleanup to do. In the aftermath, hundreds of people showed up to the tornado affected area willing to help in any way they could. Approximately 250 individuals would show up to help clean the debris off one field at a time. In addition to clean up, individuals showed up and helped relocate the hogs. The hogs were moved to other facilities within 24 hours at no cost to the family, other than rent. The Whetstine family commented that it was amazing how the community and even people they didn’t know showed up to help in such trying times. Despite the massive cleanup effort, the Whetstine Family is still dealing with the aftermath of the tornado. This was evident when we visited today as there were still remnants of the tornado’s path. Amid the destruction, a new barn is almost finished being built, showing their perseverance amid life’s storms. Hogs will be moving into the barn in the next week.
Thankfully the Whetstine family had purchased farm insurance, for $15,000 a year. The farm insurance helped cover half of the cost of building the new finisher barn. This was beneficial because there was at least $150,000 worth of damage to one of their two properties. Unfortunately, they did not have loss of income insurance. This means they were unable to claim temporary rent expenses and additional crop expenses. One frustration of the insurance was they had to rebuild certain buildings in order to claim their coverage. One of the buildings cost $250,000, with construction and labour not included in the cost. This was a frustration because insurance only covered a portion of the cost of the building. On the upside, the tornado gave the Whetstine family a clean slate to rebuild their barns with a focus on wean to finish growing. Overall, the Whetstine’s situation highlights the benefits of insurance and its potential drawbacks.
A unique aspect of the Whetstine’s operation is that they are part of a Co-operative. This co-op began in 1997 due to the high prices of farrowing technology at the time. Farmers banded together and formed a co-op to pool resources together and decrease the cost per farmer to have access to the technology involved in the farrowing barn. Today, there are 18 shares in the co-op, with the Whetstine family owning 4 of them. Each share allows a farmer to grow 600 pigs per rotation which occurs every 4-9 weeks. Since the all the piglets distributed in the co-op come from one central location, they are guaranteed high quality at a set base price of ~$42 per pig. This quality is not guaranteed at a sale barn, that may have a lower cost, as sales barns can have higher disease risks involved. Co-ops have many financial benefits, but there are also downfalls to them. Right now, the Whetstine family wants to sell two of their four shares. This is partly because Clint’s parents and uncle are aging, and he doesn’t overly enjoy the work of the hogs. Additionally, Clint’s children have not expressed the desire to continue hog farming either. So, the goal is to decrease the operation size so that more time can be spent with family. However, they are having problems selling the shares. Right now, the hog industry is under economic stress, which makes investment in pork undesirable. As a result, the Whetstine’s co-op shares are currently worth less than what they want them to be sold for.
Through this visit we learned many valuable life lessons. The first being the value of having a community and the kindness of strangers during devastating times. The tornado would have been more devastating to the Whetstine family if the community had not shown up. Secondly, insurance is an option, but really it is a necessity. We were given the impression that without insurance, the possibility of rebuilding and continuing to farm would have been extremely difficult or not even an option for the Whetstine’s. Finally, the co-op allows them to source good, high quality piglets but it also locks them into a contract. At the end of the visit, the Whetstine’s had thoughtfully provided the class with cookies and lemonade.
The World’s Largest Truck Stop
After the Whetstine’s food, we were on the road again. This time, we had a rest stop at the world’s largest truck stop located in Walcott, Iowa. Here, there were lots of truck parts, souvenirs and food options. Unfortunately, we were only able to spend half an hour here before we had to be on the road again.