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Tractor parts still delayed, cost rising

At Midwest Machinery in Alexandria, parts manager Mark Tolifson said parts delays are widespread.

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Mark Tolifson, parts manager at Midwest Machinery in Alexandria, said parts delays are widespread. He advises farmers not to stock up on more parts than they need as that will worsen the problem.
Lowell Anderson / Alexandria Echo Press
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DOUGLAS COUNTY – When Douglas County corn and soybean grower Jessy Wicht tallies his top concern for spring planting, the rising cost of fertilizers and chemicals is No. 1 – followed by getting parts to repair machinery that breaks down.

Last year, a part broke down during harvest, and he and his dad and brother felt they were lucky to find a replacement at a dealership two hours away. That meant they only had to stop harvesting for the day. If that dealer hadn’t had the part, they likely would have had to shut down for a week, he said.

Normally, they would have been able to find the part locally, he said, but like the automotive and trucking industries, agriculture has been beset for the second year by pandemic-related delays in manufacturing and shipping.

“The big problem with the ag industry versus automobile or industrial is the agricultural community’s work window is small,” said Katie Nichtern, a manager at Red Horizon Equipment and Truck in Glenwood. “You only have so many weeks to get your crop in. If you’re needing something for your planter, it’s a big deal to not be able to get it.”

Wicht said it took four months to get a replacement part for his boat motor transmission.

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“If that were to happen to the combine or the planter that would be a big deal,” he said.

Red Horizon is seeing delays for many parts, including at least two months to get new guidance systems for precision planters.

At Midwest Machinery in Alexandria, parts manager Mark Tolifson said parts delays are widespread. Certain filters take about four months to arrive, and a windshield for a compact tractor finally came in late March – about nine months after he ordered it.

Tolifson said his department is laser focused on obtaining parts for spring planting, but it’s impossible to stock everything a farmer might need. As part of a 30-store dealer group, they would typically be able to find a part fairly quickly at another location, but this year, even the group’s warehouse is running into trouble getting parts to keep on hand.

He advised farmers not to stock more parts than they need, as that will worsen the problem for everyone, he said. He hasn’t seen hoarding yet, but said he hopes it doesn’t happen. He said parts for newer tractors with electric drives are harder to come by than are parts for older tractors.

Nichtern said that not only are parts hard to come by, but their prices are rising steadily. It used to be an industry norm that prices would only rise once or twice a year, but now some things cost 7-25% more every time she orders them – about every month or two.

“You can’t have increases every month and it be sustainable,” she said. She predicted “massive repercussions down the road.”

The price increases make it difficult to provide repair estimates on equipment, she said. When a repair job costs more than originally quoted, their staff has had to negotiate a middle price with customers, Nichtern said.

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She said customers have been good to work with and understand when parts take longer than expected to arrive. They also seem to be taking delays into account when planning out their season.

“A lot of farmers in the area are being very proactive and getting what they need early so they’re ready to go,” Nichtern said.

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994, and was driven by curiosity to work her way around the United States.
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