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From selling precision technology, to traveling and camping Mike Hofer of Park Farms really does it all. Hear from Mike, one of our first Ag Leader dealers about his journey with ag computer systems.

Early Ag Computer Systems

Russ Morman: 00:51 Thanks for joining me today, Mike on this week’s episode of the Ag leader podcast. I want to take a little bit of time and talk about Park Farms and kind of the history of Park Farms, how you came to be, how your dad got everything started.

And if I’m not mistaken, first of all, you’re located in Dewitt, Iowa.

And if I remember correctly, you guys got started in 1982 so if that’s right, that’s very early on in the computing system. So give me a little background, give everybody a little background as to how Park Farms came to be. And, and more importantly, as I just remembered what Park Farms stands for, because I’d forgotten, that’s an acronym.

Mike Hofer: Yep. Yep. Park farms an acronym for Paul Art Rick and Ken. So Paul was my grandfather. Art and Rick, our uncles, and then Ken was my dad. And so they actually started that corporation in the late seventies on the farming side.

Russ Morman: Okay. Okay.

Mike Hofer: We just kinda carried that on through there.

Russ Morman: So, so then what happened in 1981 that that your dad was like, Hey, in 1982, I’m gonna start this, this computer thing.

I mean, again, I was playing in Atari 2,600 in 1982. So that was, that was pretty early on.

Mike Hofer: Yep. So there was a a startup company called FMS. It was farm management systems.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mike Hofer: They created a, an accounting software program for farmers, an ag accounting program. And they were trying to get started.

And so they actually brought my dad a computer and the software program and said here, run it for a year for free. Let’s see if you like it.

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm.

Mike Hofer: Well, he ran it for a year. He liked it liked it enough that he bought into the company. And he was one of, one of four owners in that, in that startup company.

 So from there on, he started selling farm accounting software in the eighties.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mike Hofer: Well, at that time there were no big box, no best buys that sold computers. So he had to sell the computer along with the software program.

Russ Morman: OK.

Mike Hofer: Cause nobody had a computer at home at that time. So he kind self taught himself how to, fix computers and repair computers and set ’em up in order to sell the accounting software.

Russ Morman: Okay.

Mike Hofer: And it just kinda, it grew from there, and kind of fast forward, to the late eighties and, kinda like 90, 91 92. We were looking on other things on the agricultural. There was another company that was trying to develop a yield monitor in the early nineties. And we tried it in our combine, I think in 92.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mike Hofer: And it didn’t really work. And then in the winter of 92 93, that’s right after Al Myers got started with Ag Leader and dad ran, ran into him at a trade show. 

Russ Morman: Was it, was it quad city show or was it Des Moines show?

Mike Hofer: I think it was the quad city show. Then they saw him again, out at the Des Moines show and they sat down and talked and, and then the rest is history became a dealer and the way we went.

Russ Morman: So let’s see. When you guys first started, was, was Don LA Terry on board yet is, is the territory manager? Don at that time was not on board yet. That was, I think, a year or two later. I always remember. Tell me if I’m right on this, Don would come out and visit. And when he was leaving, he would just turn around and look going.

All right. Now, just go out and sell something, sell something.

Oh my gosh. Yeah, that guy, holy cow. I mean, I think Don was, he was either in his mid seventies or even 80 when I met him. Back in 97. And his listen to his stories of, of, you know, being a  salesman is just incredible. I, that was something else. So. Okay. So 93, your dad meets with Al and, and becomes a, you guys become an Ag Leader dealer.

And I went back. Actually I had, mark the super Excel guy, go back and look, and he of all active dealers, you guys are number seven as far as chronological. So that’s, that is ear ly and so talk about a little bit of the beginning with Ag Leader. Of course it was just a, a yield monitor system at that time, the YM 2000, you know, give a little background how you guys got started and, and, and really kind of help pioneer this whole thing.

Mike Hofer: Yeah. So in the spring of 93, right when this was all happening, I got done with college and just moved home that spring to start farming had no idea what I was getting into. So I was really on board that first summer of doing installs on combines and doing ours first and then, and then learning on the other one.

So I kinda ran on that ground floor as a kid that didn’t know anything doesn’t know anything, but yeah, it was, it was interesting. I remember thinking, man, this is pretty complicated. This YM2000 you know, at the time when first came out, this is pretty high tech and it just kind of grew from there, I mean, so fast.

Russ Morman: Well, yeah, you think about the differences between then and now, even as it relates to computers, you had dos and you had all these command prompt things.

Same thing with that 2000, it was just some words printed on some buttons and you had to press one button six or seven times to get to where you needed to go. You had a, a simple little, two line layout. You know, but, but really that yield monitor technology, a lot of it is still used today and, you know, that’s 30 years later.

I think my first recollections, if you guys probably through some of the dealer meetings or, or were even having a lot of fun at the quad cities farm show and, and, and going to meet Leo at, was bass street, chop house, right?

Mike Hofer: Yep.

Which is now defunct. I couldn’t believe that when I heard that.

A Day in the Life of a Dealer

Russ Morman:07:07 And, and that was, that was always quite a bit of fun. So, a typical day for Mike you you’re in the office at six 30 in the morning. I hear

Mike Hofer: most, most days I’m out here by six 30. That’s probably my most productive time.

Russ Morman: You, you don’t have a real far away to go from your house to the office?

Mike Hofer: About a hundred feet. Yeah.

So my commute is not real long.

Russ Morman: Yeah.

Mike Hofer: But yeah, I like like early mornings catch up stuff day started before anybody else gets here.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mike Hofer: Typical day, we also farm. So  depending on the time of year on whether I’m in the office a lot or out outside, kinda, it depends on what we have going on on the farm too.

Russ Morman: Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. So now give a little description. I know I, I have a relatively good idea, but what all is on the farm? You guys row crop animals. What, what all are you doing?

Mike Hofer: Yep, we, custom feed hogs. We have row crop, corn beans. We used to Farrow to far finish ourselves, but late nineties we got outta that started custom feeding.

Russ Morman: Yep. Yep.

Mike Hofer: So we don’t, don’t have to do a lot on the custom feeding side anymore. The company we feed for as the daily chore daily chore. Okay. So that kinda frees me up a little more for, the precision side of.

Russ Morman: All right. Yeah, that I I’d forgotten about the custom stuff. That would that makes life a little bit easier when, when somebody can come and do that for you.

So it does. So now, little, all right. So you said you came directly from school, right? From, from college, right into, right into, going back to the farm. Where did you go to school at? And, and what’s your degree in?

Mike Hofer: It was ag production from Kirkwood.

Russ Morman: Okay.

Ended up with two year degree outta Kirkwood for ag production.

Mike Hofer: That’s. Nothing precision ag didn’t exist back then.

Precision Technology Evolution

Russ Morman: 09:16 So so I, I graduated Iowa state in, in 97. So a year or two after, after you got outta Kirkwood. And at that point in time, precision ag was about two minutes in an agronomy class. I mean, it was, it was very rudimentary. So, and now, and now there, there are whole buildings that are nothing but precision ag it’s, it’s definitely come a long ways.

So you had made mention that, that you know, you thought, boy, this is, this is kind of a complicated install. What have, what have been, you know, like I said, you’ve been around since the beginning have been some of the biggest milestones in precision ag that, that, that you can think of over the past 30 years.

Mike Hofer: Well, obviously the yield monitor for sure that started it all off. Oh yeah. And I think the next thing after that was auto swath. When the insight came out in, Autoswath just the possibilities of what we could hooked at to, you know, at the time everybody was thinking sprayer.

Russ Morman: Mm-hmm.

Mike Hofer: And my dad at the time was forward thinking on that and was thinking planter.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mike Hofer: So we had some of the first rigged up auto swath liquid of working on the planet.

Russ Morman: you know what I actually think. I remember that you guys doing that.

Mike Hofer: Yep.

True count. Before they got bought out trim big clutch and four sections and, and faked putting on liquid and ran relays over to these clutches. And it was, it was quite. Collaboration of stuff.

Russ Morman: Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of amazing now how, you know, we’ve gone from doing that to. The electric clutch is electric drives the full, you know, full high speed delivery system that, that stuff has just evolved.

And it seems to be evolving exponentially faster as the, as the technology’s there to do it. It’s yeah, that’s, that’s definitely, it’s definitely been a ton of fun to be around, you know, being a, being a gadget guy, myself and. Really enjoying how, how this is going and you know, who knows, where is, where is it gonna go in the future?

That, I guess that’s my next question. Where, where do you see precision ag at the next five or even 10 years?

Mike Hofer: It it’s prob it’s hard to imagine where it can go, cuz I mean the old saying technology breeds more technology and that’s exactly as it just where it might have taken, you know, 10 years. Or whatever it was to develop a yield monitor.

Now you have that technology. The next, next step always comes quicker. Yeah. It just comes faster and faster and faster. You know, obviously everybody’s eyes are on autonomy.

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mike Hofer: That that’s around the corner, but I think that’s a bigger hurdle.

Than than most people think. I mean, technology’s there, it’s just getting everything in line to make it all feasible.

Russ Morman: Yep.

I mean, plus there’s a, there’s a lot of liability there as well.

Mike Hofer: A lot of liability stuff.

Russ Morman: Lot of lawyering

Mike Hofer: autonomy, I’m sure is around the corner, you know, everybody thinks how more precise can we get with everything we’re doing. I, I think it’s gonna even get more, more precise. Yep. The fertilizer application and, and just everything is just gonna be more and more down to the nitty gritty.

Russ Morman: That’s that’s yeah, I think that’s true.

 I love asking people where they think it’s gonna be in five years. Shoot. I couldn’t tell you where, where this is gonna be in six months. A lot of times, like you said, it’s exponentially advancing faster and faster as we go. You know, we’ve, again, we’ve gone from having just a yield monitor.

When I started to adding GPS to, to doing, like you said, application control to having more of a, of a full farm solution and, and how do you imagine having an option for a full farm solution affects the guys that look to you for advice and, and to be buying equipment? You know, when you’re able to, to come in with something that isn’t just a steering system, or isn’t just a yield monitor when you’re talking to a potential customer or a customer you’ve had for a while about a full farm solution, how do you address that?

Mike Hofer: Well, it, it always comes down to. Your return on investment, how what’s it gonna, is it gonna make them money?

Russ Morman: Yep.

Mike Hofer: You know, for years when steering first came out, it was more of a, they viewed it as a luxury on them. Not a, not a return on investment or anything like that to make life easier, healthier your operations.

So. When, when you can package everything together and, and show ’em the return on electric drives and steering and, and your monitors communicating with the cloud in real time and how just logistics, how it could help with everything on your farm, with the whole farm package that just makes that easier sell and.

They view it easier too. They can see the whole picture rather than just a single part of it.

Russ Morman: You bet. You bet. Yeah, that that’s a big part of it. I can remember. I don’t, I don’t hear it anymore, but I can remember hearing, oh, this is just a guidance system. I can, I can steer on my own or I don’t, I don’t need to do any of this.

This isn’t, this isn’t what you know, grandpa did to now where any bit of it has a hiccup man, it’s it’s near on full panic. Because the stuff it’s, it’s a useful tool. It’s not only efficiency, but at the end of the day, even just as something as simple as man, my shoulders don’t hurt as bad as, as they did, you know, I I’ve got something that makes my life easier and either makes me money or makes me more efficient, which I guess, you know, maybe could be even one and the same.

Taking the Ag Leader Experience to the Next Level

Russ Morman: 15:24 So I recall you guys were one of our first master service dealers, and of course you guys are a, a blue Delta dealer and, you know, having been at your guys’ location, I know that you guys, do you guys do everything from training to installs to everything, you know, how do you use your guys’ building with the training center and everything to, to help take the Ag Leader customer experience to the next level?

Mike Hofer: Yeah, we, we do. Two major trainings a year, one right before spring, and then another one right before fall. And we just, we go over all the, all the button pushes in ins and outs, you know, precheck on the plan. There’s a precheck on the combines just to get guys’ minds back in, in planting mode or harvest mode yep.

And refreshing their memory year to year on, on what needs to be done. You know, and at those times too, where they all bring their monitors, we make sure everything’s updated. The latest version’s in the firmware and what happens in the updates and what key features they have.

They may not always remember when they get to the field to, to do something we talked about. Yeah. But they remember they could do it. So they may call us and say, Hey, you talked about this class. How to refresh my memory, how to. I think that’s as good as anything that you can do it regardless, whether you remember you, how to do it.

Russ Morman: Right. Right. And I think a lot of that customer, there’s so many features that customers don’t use. Yeah. You know, different guidance patterns, and how to control the group of them. It makes life so much easier. You use it. Well, you don’t talk about it and walk ’em through it and remind them that they can do it.

They never will. Yep. Yeah. Even at home, You know, heck I’ve, I’ve worked here for, for 25 years and then I’ll go and go, oh, I forgot we can do X, Y, and Z. And, and it’s it, you know, I, if I wasn’t in front of it all the time, well, there’s no way I could expect myself to remember that. So those refresher courses that’s definitely a big value added.

Fishing, Camping, Coaching and Flying Planes

Russ Morman: 17:37 So now let let’s, let’s sidestep a little bit of, of Ag Leader stuff.

So what, when you’re, when you’re not farming, when you’re not, supporting Ag Leader customers and, and just, just being the best dealer that you can possibly be, what you.

Mike Hofer: Well, it’s changed over the years.

Russ Morman: well, yeah, it does with me too. Yeah. a lot less jail time anymore, I guess a lot.

Mike Hofer: Yeah, that that’s good.

That might not be fun, but getting there probably was, but used to do a lot of fishing and camping. Haven’t done that for quite a few years, but, a lot of my free time, coaching high school basketball. So in season that takes up a lot of time. Yes, it does. And then in post season, you know, we still have stuff we do with, with the kids in the off season, so that that’s kind of my getaway, you know, open gyms or some stuff.

So really enjoy that. That’s kinda my, my free time might get away at my stress reliever. Some people would say, how is that a stress reliever? But it’s, it’s different than what you’re doing every day.

Russ Morman: Well, that’s true. Yeah. And, and I think the same things could be said for me, like I spent a good portion of the weekend putting a trailer break controller in a 45 year old Ford truck.

And that doesn’t always constitute relaxation, but it was something different than what I do on a day to day. It’s it’s not so bad. So folks listening, aren’t gonna know this, but I, we had you fill out some questions and I’m very curious about this one, any profession for a day, you picked pilot, so I’ve gotta know or are, I mean, have you always been, let me give a little background.

That’s why this fascinates me. I’m I’m an Absolute. Fanatic fan of, of history, including like world war II aircraft, and, and any of that, any of those sort of things. So how, how did, how did that become your answer? Or if you could do one thing for one day, no matter what it was, it’d be pilot.

Mike Hofer: I just, we’ve got a neighbor that has a, a small plane. I’ve been up with him a few times and, and flying. I’ve driven a helicopter before, you know, doing some sight, seeing stuff in different parts of the country and yep. Just, I, I like that if I could do it for one day and without having to put in the months and years of training to do it, you know.

Russ Morman: There’s been a the last week or two, there have been a lot of, crop spraying going on via aerial application around, around home and, and just hear that thing going buzzing over.

And it’s like, you know what, that I’m sure that somebody that does it would say, well, don’t forget about all these other things I gotta do, but at least the point where you’re in the plane applying would, would certainly be a lot of fun. Yeah, for sure. So I don’t think I wanna do the paperwork or anything like that, but the, the flying part of it would, would be a lot of fun.

So. Adrenaline the adrenaline. Yeah. I mean, you just, you buzz down and then you gotta fly right back up again. In fact, I was, I was actually over at, at, mom’s out walking around with her dog and there was, he was applying just to the north. And got what I thought was relatively close to me. And I was like, oh wow.

So I, I, but you know, it was, it was, it was pretty neat. I’m, you know, I’m always, I’m fascinated with, with aircraft as well. And, you know, I think for me a big part of it is just the historical aspect of it, but I, I can definitely get on board with any profession for a day pilot. So, so hopefully now again, hopefully you’re.

You’re you’re maintaining the, the head of Park Farms for years to come yet. But when you, when you finally decide to hang it up, I hear wanna travel a bit more UN unpack that for me, because, because I, again, I can get on board with that.

Mike Hofer: Yeah. Yeah. I just wanna see the world things I haven’t seen, you know, you, you read about places and I enjoy going on.

When we go on vacation, we never go to the same spot twice. Yep. Something different. You hear people, you go the same spot every year. I don’t wanna do that. I wanna venture out and explore. I like like seeing new things.

Russ Morman: I I, so what, what would be what gimme two or three bucket list, places that you want to go and why

Mike Hofer: Alaska would probably be my number 1, 1, 1, a wild the outdoors.

I love the outdoors. Obviously go there in the summer, not the wintertime. . Um, I’d love to go on a elk hunt or something like that up in Alaska. Yeah, that would be neat. That would be, that would be love to do that better go fishing up there. That’d be. Yep. That’d be great. Just seeing the outdoors up there in Alaska, overseas, go over to, you know, you know, Germany, Norway, Sweden, those mm-hmm visit those.

Russ Morman: Yeah, my bucket list includes Normandy, you know, maybe Ireland and Scotland, just to kind of travel the, the farms and, and stay off, stay off the touristy stuff. Yep. You know, one of the things domestically I would love to do is, and I’ve I’ve anybody that knows me has heard me tell this story. I take a, take a map of north America, throw a dart somewhere, and then make like a two-week trip in an old car, you know, just don’t make you make 200 miles a day.

Great. You make 400 miles a day. Great. And it would even be fun to, to, to stand in some old, well, I should, I should qualify this some well-maintained roadside hotels. I don’t want to be murdered, one of those, in fact, I was watching some stuff the other day about route 66 and I’m like, man, that, that would be fun to, to travel route 66 and, and a lot of it.

Interstate now, but a lot of it in the Southwest is, is still original, still original road. So, yeah, I could, but I could definitely get on board with, with some of the European travel and, and, you know, that would, that would be a lot of fun. So, where, all right, so we talked about predicting the future for Ag Leader.

Give me the. giving away any trade secrets, give the five or 10-year Park Farms, business plan. Where do you, where do you wanna be?

Mike Hofer: So probably in the, in the five to 10 year. Probably, obviously we we’ve been doing this for 29 years now. Hopefully, that continues on like we’re doing and, and expanding on that portfolio that Ag Leader has to offer. That’s been a huge, huge part of what we do. Mm-hmm and I just see that continuing forward.

Russ Morman: I think, I think that’s pretty good. I like, I like that so well, any anyway. Mike. I I do wanna say thank you for, for joining us today and, and, taking a little time to look back and reflect, like I said, you and I have known each other for probably close to 25 years and certainly had a lot of friend fun, had serious friend of mine. If, if, if somebody wanted to. Get a, see you guys online. What, what’s your guys’ website? Do you have, YouTube or Facebook page? What’s how do they, how do they find you online? Yep.

Mike Hofer: Is our website, Facebook, same thing, Park Farms computer on the Facebook.

Russ Morman: Nice and easy.

Mike Hofer: Yep. Nice and easy. So contact us anytime. That’ll be.

Russ Morman: Perfect. All right. Well, thank you very much, Mike. And we will talk in with you later. I’m. Sure. Thank you for spending a little time with me today. All right.

Mike Hofer: Thanks Russ, thank you very much.

Mike Hofer

Mike Hofer

President & Owner of Park Farms Computer Systems

Russ Morman

Russ Morman