Home Economy News Too many tractors: As boom times fade, farm equipment piles up

Too many tractors: As boom times fade, farm equipment piles up


By Bianca Flowers and Renee Hickman

DEKALB, Illinois (Reuters) – Falling crop prices are leaving agriculture equipment sellers with an excess of unsold tractors and combines. To cope with the surplus, dealers are discounting machines, suspending new orders, and even auctioning off equipment at reduced prices.

The slower equipment sales are a knock-on effect of corn and soy prices dropping to more than three-year lows as U.S. farm income plummets and equipment makers and dealers are forced to pivot quickly after a period of booming business.

Reuters interviewed ten equipment dealers, mostly in the Midwest, as well as farmers and analysts, who said low crop prices combined with persistently high interest rates are deterring farmers from purchasing machinery. As farmers make fewer purchases, inventories of equipment are swelling, cutting into profits for dealers and big manufacturers alike.

Manufacturers Deere (NYSE:DE) and CNH Industrial (NYSE:CNHI) struggled to keep up with the strong demand for tractors in 2022 when farm income hit a record high and pandemic assistance payments gave farmers extra money to upgrade their fleets. Now both expect slower sales to hit their bottom line this year.

Josh Gruett, dealer principal at Waupun Equipment in Waupun, Wisconsin, which sells farm, construction and other equipment, said his inventory has risen 30% to 35% since the end of 2023.

The excess of unsold machinery prompted Gruett to halt new orders from companies including CNH, AGCO, and Polaris (NYSE:PII) in hopes of balancing supply and demand, he said.

In April, inventory levels of high-horsepower tractors (300 and above) in the U.S. surged by almost 107% year-over-year, with combine inventory experiencing a 17.63% increase, according to Sandhills Global, a market research firm specializing in tracking used inventory for industrial manufacturers.

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Chris Tanner, a fourth-generation farmer, said some dealerships in his town of Norton, Kansas, have slashed prices up to 30% with an added incentive of zero percent interest to move machinery off their lots.

“They’re heavily discounting combines and tractors — but after coming through a drought and experiencing poor prices we don’t have the money to spend,” Tanner said.

The pain has also spread to those who sell spare parts.

Guy Robinson, is a parts manager at Dekalb Implement Company, which sells Deere equipment in Dekalb, Illinois

During the peak years of the pandemic, Robinson said, the combination of supply chain troubles and rising demand made getting everything from parts to equipment to farmers “a nightmare.”

And then demand began falling off in late 2022, he said.

About 30 miles south of Robinson’s dealership, Aaron Rogers (NYSE:ROG), retail location manager at AHW, another Deere dealer in Somonauk, Illinois, said zero or low percentage financing is a popular way to try to bring in customers.

“If you can get a good interest rate, that’s what’s driving the market right now,” he said. Offering lower financing rates to sell inventory can result in a loss for dealers, but carrying unsold machinery can prove costlier.

Manufacturers give dealers free financing on equipment for a limited period while they sell it, but once that expires, dealers have to pay interest on their unsold inventory to manufacturers.

With fewer sales forecast, equipment dealers are feeling pressure to auction off equipment “right away” to preserve margins, said Casey Seymour, a sales consultant for dealers.

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“Some of the stuff that is being put to auction is because dealers can’t afford to keep the floor plan,” Seymour said. “They can’t have millions of dollars worth of inventory sitting around at a floor plan [with a] 7.5% interest rate.”

Particularly, inventory levels have been a big concern in the Midwest grain belt, said Ryan Dolezal, the manager of TractorHouse, a site for selling new and used farm equipment.

“We do not see the inventory levels issues like we do in Midwest markets,” he said of specialty crop equipment compared to row crop machinery.

Used agriculture machinery inventory, the bulk of machinery sold in the United States, is on a steady increase that is forcing dealers to auction equipment at a lower price point, said Mitch Helman, a sales manager at Sandhills Global.

“For planters there’s a 70% gap between auction and retail and that’s insane. A spread this high has not been observed since May 2015,” he said, referring to a time when grain oversupply was pummeling farmer income.

Deere reports earnings on May 16. In February, the company announced plans to cut production and warned shareholders inflation would make farmers reticent to finance equipment purchases.

Texas-based farmer, Scott Born said given his tighter budget, he’s forgoing buying new or used equipment for the remainder of the year.

“We have to try to limp by without major repairs — it’s tough especially since (equipment and fertilizer) has gone so much higher in just a few years.”

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(This story has been corrected to show that the source was referring to specialty equipment compared to row machinery, in paragraph 20. It also corrects to show that the source was referring to planters, in paragraph 22)

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