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The gentle art of agriculture hinges on demand.
In 1850, working the land was easily the largest subset of employment in the United States. About 64 percent—4.9 million—of the country’s workers were farmers.
But, the Industrial Revolution led to fewer people needed to till the land because of more sophisticated machinery. Today, agriculture and related industries employ 21.4 million full- and part-time workers—about 11 percent of the total U.S. employment. Only about 1.4 percent, however, are direct on-farm employment positions.
With fewer people providing more agricultural yield, machinery and technology has taken over to make it easier than ever for the ag industry to produce. Kuhn Krause, a manufacturing company focused specifically on the agriculture industry, is a mainstay in the marketplace.
Swiss company Bucher Industries AG owns Kuhn Group; a company that grew out of founder Joseph Kuhn’s French village forge in 1828. The business started selling agricultural machinery in North America in the 1960s and today has three brands under its umbrella: Kuhn, Kuhn Knight, and Kuhn Krause.
Kuhn acquired Krause Corporation, Inc. in 2011. Like Kuhn North America, Krause Corporation grew up through humble roots. Henry Krause built a one-way disc plow in 1916 that neighboring farms asked him to replicate. Kuhn Krause today includes one of the largest selections of farm tillage equipment and grain drills in the world.
“Kuhn Krause fits into the Kuhn North America lineup well by offering products complementary to the other lines we sell,” said Curt Davis, Director of Marketing for Kuhn Krause. “Their tillage and seeding equipment has been used for over 100 years in North America.”
Although the Midwest—the U.S.’s biggest agricultural region—is experiencing a down market, Kuhn Krause has long-terms plans for research and development and many new products and experiences for its customers to get through the tough times.
What Drives the Industry
There are many factors that affect the agriculture industry and how it makes purchasing decisions: commodity prices, weather, market conditions, and even political influences.
“The supply and demand of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton—farmers look at the markets every day,” Davis shared. “Weather conditions obviously play a big part in how farmers purchase machinery as well. Surprisingly for us, down yields could have a negative or positive impact on sales for us.”
Drought conditions can cause a hard crust to develop on soil. For farmers experiencing a drought, they know that in some cases they’ll need to have a piece of equipment to break up that ground.
“Right now, political action—in the form of tariffs and surcharges on international trade—has had an impact on pricing. Some farmers are holding their breath over whether customers will continue to purchase from the U.S.”
It’s been a tough few years in America’s Corn Belt. It’s a region largely dependent on corn and soybeans, and the last few years they’ve had very good supplies of both.
But why is this a problem?
“The region needs to have good exports and usage for prices to be elevated again. Until usage starts outpacing supply, you’ll see depressed markets,” said Davis.
To combat the possibility of lower interest in ag machinery during depressed periods caused by too much supply, Kuhn Krause has focused on product development. Kuhn Krause has invested significantly and conducted considerable work in research and development to improve the product and its process.
“We have several new products or updates to products that have produced some general excitement in the industry and have given farmers something else to think about,” said Eddie Smith, Director of Operations.
“Kuhn Krause’s philosophy focuses on long-range planning,” he continued. “We don’t just look at the short term. Part of this long-term planning involves continually investing back into the company. You have to make sure you’re in the best position when the market goes back up.”
Kuhn Krause, therefore, has invested millions of dollars over the last few years, looking specifically at cost reduction, process improvements, better resource utilization, and technology to enhance the workforce.
“We’re constantly looking for new ways to improve the customer experience and decrease customer cost,” said Davis. “All the while we want to help them improve yield potential and profitability.”
One of the company’s current projects, that is a result of this R&D investment, is the Gladiator® strip-till system, which allows farmers to specifically and accurately apply fertilizer at reduced rates by maintaining or increasing their yield.
Marrying Human and Machine
Other investments have come in the form of smart machining centers, bringing the Internet of Things to the manufacturing floor and the consumer.
“We can get feedback on the performance of a machine in the shop, making it easier for operators to operate,” Smith said.
One new machine on the manufacturing floor has been able to replace five manual operations. Kuhn Krause’s laser machines—one 4,000 watt and the other 6,000—mean improved cutting quality and tighter tolerances. Continuum and other smart welding products allow welders to have constant feedback on their tools and how they are performing. Robotic welders, too, have been a process improvement.
“We installed a robotic welder in April—a weld cell with four robots to weld all frames for our Excelerator®. Manually, the process used to take six welders. It now takes three, meaning we can move welders and better utilize them and their skills.”
To make sure Kuhn Krause was investing in the right divisions of its business during a tough market, its leaders analyzed the facilities and used lean techniques to evaluate and understand where bottlenecks occur.
“We had our operators involved from the start,” said Smith. “We wanted to make their jobs better, not get rid of employees.”
“There were challenges; people sometimes have a hard time with change. Like it or not, even though you do your best with it, you may lose some workers because they don’t want to participate in the change. But, we were able to convert the majority of our workforce to a lean type of thinking,” Smith shared.
Kuhn Krause, “cleaned the plant up,” starting with 6s implementation and material flow training for employees. . This small change led to buy-in from a majority of the workforce, and they have embraced the lean and technology advancements in their day to day activities.
“I’ve been with the company for over 15 years,” said Davis. “Kuhn Krause is a people business in many cases. Farmers want to know you have experience in the industry, and we understand what the customer is looking for.”
“A characteristic of many Midwestern areas is a strong work ethic. That’s always driven the culture here, that and a perfectionist attitude. Perfection is not always achievable, but we’re always striving to be the best.”
Kuhn in North America provides superior support to our customers across the continent. We recognize the choice that our customers have when making their equipment decisions. It is our goal to produce high-quality machinery and provide knowledgeable sales and product support through our regional facilities and dealer network located throughout North America.