This year the Kverneland Group will bid farewell to Rolf Allmendinger, product application specialist for the farms of much of Europe, North America and China.

It is always difficult to compress a lifetime’s work into a few short words, but suffice to say that Rolf has dedicated the greater part of his career to improving spreader and sprayer machinery within the companies that now make up the Kverneland Group.

During 33 years’ of experience in developing these essential items in the modern farmers arsenal, there will have been a great deal of critical examination of trends both within engineering and the broader vista of agriculture generally.

Rolf Allmendinger
Rolf Allmendinger has been with the Kverneland group for 33 years, mainly working with sprayers and spreaders

Taking time out to talk to Agriland on the eve of his retirement, Rolf kindly shared just a fraction of this accumulation of knowledge and gave a few indications of where he thinks agriculture is heading.

Feet on the ground

If there is one clear message that radiates from Rolf it is that manufacturers have to stay connected with their customers.

This does not mean to say that they should depend exclusively on farmers to direct future developments; there is, he points out, an element of leadership required from companies in bringing new methods to farming.

Kverneland sprayer
Rolf was heavily involved in the development and introduction of the Kverneland iX sprayer range

However, enthusiasm for new technology must be tempered and informed by general trends within agriculture and these are beyond the influence of any one company.

While companies serving their customer base are able to manage their communications and hold a two-way dialogue with farmers, Rolf notes that there is a growing disconnection between farmers and those outside of the agricultural industry, including politicians.

This has long been a complaint of farmers as the population in the west has moved away from land-based employment. He notes that the situation in Ireland, which still has a large rural population, is not as dire as on the continent – where one farmer confided in him that he is afraid to go spraying in daylight.

Farms feed the world

This may well be an extreme case, but in his conversations with growers throughout the world he finds there are two poles of thought emerging within the farming community.

The first group are those who want to produce enough food for earth’s population of seven billion to eat. This population is still growing, and so must the output from farms to keep pace with it. They just want to get on with the job in hand.

Kverneland baler on farms
Optimizing yields through greater efficiency is the way ahead says Rolf Allmendinger

At the other end of the spectrum sit those who are sensitive to the demands of the organic movement. Their way of farming is to provide foodstuffs that meet with the requirements of consumers who want food produced in as natural a manner as possible.

Somewhere in between, lie the majority of farmers he suggests. Yet there is one common factor, and that is neither is resistant to change – they just want to do it in their own way at their own pace and in the best interests of their farm and their business.

The remoteness of the consumer from production is probably best exemplified by the notion that farming can switch track tomorrow, not appreciating, as Rolf drily notes, that agriculture is like an oil tanker; it can’t just be stopped or its course reversed with the flick of a switch.

Farmers need a toolbox

What is obvious is that there is no one single solution to this conundrum. What is needed instead, is a toolbox of options, be believes.

He points to the plough as a typical example of what he means. Traditionally, its role has been the deep inversion of the soil but now it can, and has, been adapted for shallow cultivation.

Adapting that which is known to work is as essential part of farming. Yet what he sees is pressure from outside the industry to discard everything that is tried and tested and install shiny new techniques that may not be right for every situation.

Toolbox adaption
The refining of what is known to work is as important as the introduction of new tools

At this point, he notes that a farmer is a prisoner of his geography; he cannot alter the soil, climate or terrain and so there is unlikely to be any one system that suits both him and his neighbour.

Introducing new tools, while developing those that already exist, he obviously sees as a responsibility of the machinery trade. Retaining the ability to mix and match from a whole gamut of implements and methods will give farmers the flexibility to cope with variations within his location over time.

Awaiting the next generation

Farming and problems are never strange bedfellows and another major issue that Rolf feels is coming to the fore is that of an ageing farming community.

The average age of farmers is steadily increasing and he views with some alarm, the lack of motivation among following generations.

He does not blame nor castigate the younger generations, farming is no longer seen as a “sexy” occupation and it is becoming ever more difficult to find partners who are willing to tolerate the unsociable hours involved.

Yet farming still needs skilled people to grow food, and this shortage is in addition to the challenge of retaining technicians and field personnel – which is one of the big complaints of dealers worldwide.

Kverneland maps the road ahead

A great deal is spoken of digital technology as it were one amorphous mass. This is far from the case; there are divisions and sectors within it and Kverneland is developing its own approach.

Rolf explains that the company has adopted an overall vision of making life easier for the farmer. It’s products will be designed to make the application of inputs smarter and targeted towards achieving the maximum return/unit of input.

Sprayer technology kverneland
Sprayers are set to get a lot smarter and selective in what and where they spray

The company does not see itself as a huge data gathering organisation with clouds packed with information on a farmer’s business. Indeed, the philosophy of Kubota, the parent company, is to consider the farmer an independent entity and it is one that he wholeheartedly supports.

The farmer is respected as an individual and while the company’s IT products may help in the running of farms, Kubota make it quite clear that any telematic or other data transfer service can be immediately withdrawn from at any time.

Farmers must remain at the helm

Recognition of the huge variation in agricultural methods is an integral part of the company’s approach. It is also quite clear that it considers the best people to navigate their way through the choppy waters of this vast and vitally important industry are farmers themselves.

Rolf sees the role of machinery manufacturers as aiding that passage by getting to know the customer and providing solutions rather than instilling a formula from a distant office.

Truth on farms Rolf
Live demonstrations on farms can provide more valuable feedback than large shows

With the future viability of large shows now coming under pressure, the way in which that is accomplished may well be shifting towards demonstrations on local farms and open days rather than mass events.

This is a movement which may not be unwelcome for there is, he suggests, great value in engaging with customers in front of a working machine rather than trying to elicit useful feedback in a three minute conversation snatched on an anonymous stand.

As Rolf would often remind his staff at Kverneland, “the truth is out there on the farms”.