Scheduling Downtime in the Future

Farmer Iron

All that telematics stuff could eventually change the way you think about maintenance.

Published on: April 12, 2012

I've had a long-running dialog with folks - from farmers to economists - about downtime. I have never felt farmers really account for the cost of downtime properly, which encourages many to "go cheap" without understanding the true value of lost time. Everyone complains about the cost of service at a dealership, but the fact is reduced downtime will always make you money. What about "scheduled" downtime?

With the rise of true telematics on farm equipment - which is still in its infancy - there will come a time that your dealer may be calling to schedule a service appointment. Perhaps you've hit a magic hour level and that calls for work. Or you may know something is "up" and have been putting it off because you are busy. It's a way to manage downtime, but of course knowing the true costs of an downed machine is important.

Beyond the pain and headache of having a piece of iron stalled in the field is the true cost of idle machinery - seasonal yield and profit impacts. Depending on the timing of the breakdown, you could be looking at a significant income hit.

Of course, this year with so many of you seeing ideal planting conditions, this may be hard to fathom, but look at the opportunity cost of downtime at planting time. Say a piece of machinery goes down on April 16 and stops all planting, and you are 50% done. However, the repair will take two days.

By April 18 it starts raining and the skies don't clear until May 10 (it's happened right you guys in Ohio?). So now you're planting the rest of that crop later, which we know digs into yield.

What did that planter downtime really cost? It's more than the $2,000 repair bill. You have to factor in the lost solar energy of not having that seed in the ground for those three weeks and the potential multi-bushel hit on all those acres.

I know this is usually in the back of your heads, but there's what I call the "temporal disconnect." You see the immediate repair bill, but the true yield loss hits your balance sheet later and would appear as an unrelated expense. It's a kind of hidden cost because of the time difference between a downed planter and a lower yield. Yet it's there.

If you're looking for ways to tighten machinery management take the dealer up on scheduled downtime that doesn't hit your planting, spraying or harvesting duties. In addition, consider contingencies - including renting a machine to keep moving. That rental charge won't be higher than the risk of yield losses that can hit your bottom line.

Just something to ponder from the tractor cab this most wonderful spring. Enjoy planting, and here's wishing you continued safety and equipment that keeps on running.

If you have a downtime story to share, make a comment below (just remember to do the math so your comment shows up - it's a trick we use to keep the robots from spamming us).