I'm pretty sure when I got into ag journalism all those years ago, I wasn't thinking some international travel would be part of the mix. Sure, ag is a global business, but would I be making those long trips? Since 1985 I've made quite a few and for anyone contemplating a trip overseas I recommend it - if for nothing more to get a glimpse of how others live and view the world.
We offer that opportunity with our Farm Progress Farm Tour program -and there's still time to sign up for the Brazil tour with Farm Futures Senior Editor Bryce Knorr, or the Australia Tour with Farm Broadcaster Max Armstrong.
For me, the most recent trip abroad was to travel to Germany for an event set up by Agco for its Fendt equipment division. Fendt, a long-time major player in the European ag equipment market, is known for its technology and its early adoption of such tools as the continuously variable transmission. For this trip, the focal point was the opening of a new $200 million factory in its home base of Marktoberdorf, Bavaria. And the launch of the new mid-size Fendt 500 series tractor.
We'll have more on that Fendt 500 series in the future - that new model won't reach U.S. shores until 2013.
As for the event, it was filled with dignitaries, international media and local residents all celebrating the great news that Fendt was opening a new state-of-the-art facility. This is quite the facility, with its kilometer-long manufacturing line, and it's new-style production techniques adopted from the automotive industry.
The company held an international media presentation during its celebratory week, inside a giant tent built to hold 3,500 people. After the speeches and presentations, it was time to head out to the track to check out the new tractors, and other new equipment. And just before we did, the rains came - but that didn't dampen the presenters' spirits.
Out we went in 30 mile-per-hour rains as the sun set to see a parade of products and technologies, including a driver/follower tractor technology that offers a new way to look at bringing more equipment into the field; high-tech loader technology where the attachment actually measures the load and can "remember" the loader cycle to make the operator more efficient; combine and forage harvesting tools and more.
Fendt is a major European player and looks to expand in other world markets. The foray into the U.S. market is expanding slowly as Agco works with key dealers to build the sales approach for this high-end line of equipment. During presentations, Martin Richenhagen, Chairman, president and CEO of Agco, notes that at least one dealer is going to focus on Fendt with a new kind of sales approach. When we have details we'll share it, building market share in the competitive U.S. market is no easy task, but it there's solid evidence that Agco is serious about getting that done in the next decade.
That new plant expansion/redesign/upgrade also boost productivity allowing the company to build more than 17,500 tractors this year with the aim to hit 20,000 in the very near future. Sales for Fendt equipment are up 60% over the past 10 years.
I made my first adventurous move to rent a car while in Germany and that made the trip more personal and interesting. The chance to do a little sight-seeing on the last day before heading back home didn't hurt (by the way there's really nothing quite like driving a BMW in Bavaria - thank you Hertz).
While we struggled with the rain, simultaneous translation issues (translators don't always really know the right ag and tech terms) and getting access to equipment. Our Agco hosts were obliging of U.S. requests and supportive of our need for information. It was an interesting week, and in a country that the rest of the world is watching it's interesting to note that the unemployment rate in Bavaria is below 1%. It's a thriving economy often over-shadowed by neighboring countries' bad fiscal moves.
The long flight over and back isn't fun, but getting the information and a better understanding of the international nature of a familiar company - Agco - makes it easier for me to offer you insight into what's coming down the road. It was worth the trip.