FORT WAYNE — Outside the Coliseum Wednesday there were acres of parked pickups. Inside, there were acres of farm implements. The annual farm show was under way.
The show, which continues through 4 p.m. today, draws farmers from across the Great Lakes states to see what’s new in the ag industry, cut deals with implement dealers and catch up with old acquaintances.
Paul Thiry was busy at the Borkholder Buildings and Supply booth helping farmers plan new outbuildings. He has seen a trend growing in the ag community.
“Everyone is going green now,” Thiry said. “A few years ago you never heard of it.”
In response to that movement, Borkholder is now selling solar energy systems for homes and ag businesses.
John Ward of Tiffin, Ohio is a Borkholder dealer. He said the Buckeye State’s economy is still depressed and an American Standard plant in the Tiffin area that made toilets closed and the jobs moved to Vietnam.
Thiry said the ag construction business is slumping right now because of the decline in other construction areas, especially homes.
“They are shopping very hard,” he said of potential customers. “It is a buyer’s market and it is very, very competitive out there.”
Ward looked back through the decades and decided the current downturn in his industry hasn’t been matched in years.
“It is probably the slowest we have been since the early ’80s,” he said.
Now the good news
But other areas of the ag industry are doing very well. The influx of cash from good harvests with higher prices last year has set up many farmers with the money to buy new equipment or upgrade their current machines, according to several vendors at the show.
Ed Miller was busy telling farmers about Honeyville Metal’s grain-handling products. The rural Topeka company makes conveyors and grain lifts used to fill giant silos with corn, soybeans and other grains.
The company is doing well and has just invested in a new punch press for metal parts that is housed in a new addition at the plant. Miller said the machine will allow the company to increase production and cut down on lead time for orders.
“Our market is doing well,” Miller said. “The grain market is strong.”
And it’s not the demand from ethanol plants that is fueling the grain market, according to Miller. Instead, countries around the world are buying more grain for food.
Here in the United States, Miller said he sees a trend in grain farms becoming larger. That trend is benefiting his company.
“As the grain farmers get bigger,” he explained, “the need for equipment to move grain is getting larger.”
Equipment that handles 3,000 bushels per hour used to be common in the industry. But now Honeyville is making many machines that can handle 15,000 bushels per hour. Miller said that equipment can unload a semi-load of grain in four minutes.
“The grain industry is having some pretty good times right now,” he said.
Phil Reidenbach of Archbold Equipment Co. in Topeka agreed.
“There seems to be a lot of interest,” Reidenbach said as he stood next to a giant red tractor at his company’s exhibit area. “There is some potential for guys to make some decent money.”
And the forecast for this year’s corn prices is pretty good, he said. Because of the expected increase in demand worldwide for corn, some people believe the corn supply will run out just as the fall harvest begins.
“So that will keep the price high,” Reidenbach said. “It looks like this is going to be a real good year and farmers will have a lot of money to spend if there input costs don’t get too high.”
Livestock profit shrinks
While rising grain prices are putting cash in some farmer’s pockets, the price gain is shrinking the profit margins of livestock farmers who are feeding that expensive grain to their animals. The higher grain costs were a concern for livestock farmers at the show, according to some vendors.
John Hanshaw of Penta TMR was at the Wakarusa Nutritional Services booth. His company is helping to control farm costs by selling machines that allow livestock farmers to blend their own feeds and utilize less expensive ingredients.
“The way prices are going,” Hanshaw said, “they are trying to make a cheaper ration to make money.”
Livestock farmers can do that by using grinders that digest square and round bales of hay, silage, corn stalks, soybean meal and feed grains and anything else organic that livestock can utilize.
Dwayne Miller, a co-owner of Wakarusa Nutritional Services, said milk prices dipped in 2009 but have now recovered. Now the problem for Elkhart County dairy farmers is grain prices. That’s why he expects sales to increase for his company’s feed-mixing equipment.
“The grain prices have gone up so high,” he said, “it is eating into their profits again.”