On a large, family farm, equipment needs can drastically change year-over-year, and Whitby Farms are no different. For the last 50 years, their farm in the Columbia Basin region of Southeastern Washington has changed and, as the farm needs have changed, so have the Whitbys. While the family remains strongly committed to their core farming values, they have learned that, sometimes, changing one practice can have a positive ripple effect in many other parts of their operations.
The late Larry and Shirla Whitby started the farm, raised nine children and, in 1988, two of their sons, Jeb and Bart, partnered to incorporate. Today, two more brothers — Lared and Josh — fill leadership positions. Their operation now requires many other family members to pitch in with an entrepreneurial spirit to build their capabilities and grow their annual yields.
Brennan Whitby, Whitby Farms Production Manager could certainly manage their mixed fleet for the farm, but the inefficiencies in doing so became clearer as their operation expanded. In 2011, the Whitby family decided to secure a land and livestock operation in Southeastern Oregon near the town of Frenchglen to raise alfalfa and Timothy hay — highly desired by both exporters and western dairies. As they expanded their machine fleet, they started to make other changes as well.
“We used to have whatever equipment was the cheapest price or the best deal,” Brennan said. “You'd come to our equipment yard, and every machine was blue, red, green, whatever color you could think of...we had it.”
Brennan isn’t alone. Many growers are rightfully concerned about the price of equipment, which is one of their largest line-item expenses. As a result, they find themselves as owners of a wide variety of machines from a variety of manufacturers.
For several seasons, Whitby Farms had started using John Deere tractors in several of their growing operations, across a few different farms. They first noticed the difference in comfortability.
“You want to be comfortable when you're sitting all day,” Brennan said. “People say, ‘Deere are the nicest tractors,’ and then you step inside one and you see why.”
As a result of their positive experience in running John Deere equipment, Brennan explains that the family leaders decided that all equipment purchases moving forward would be made by a single manufacturer, and they would work with a single dealer: RDO Equipment Co. Brennan also noticed some clear advantages of streamlining, including the level of service.
“If we had problems, I never heard ‘we'll be there in a day or two when we can get there,’ Brennan said. “RDO takes care of us wherever we go.”
The Whitbys had started working with Joel Slaybaugh, an RDO Equipment Co. service technician from the Pasco, Washington store. They were
impressed by RDO technicians - like Joel - who traveled hours to keep their operation running. In fact, RDO’s store is more than 200 miles, approximately three hours, from Whitby Farms near Mesa, Washington.
“Their service was second to none, it was the best,” Brennan said. “RDO would talk us through issues, if needed, and it gave us confidence to take chances and expand to Oregon.”
Over time, Brennan started to notice the clear advantages of not only working with a dealer that provides superior service but one who is constantly monitoring machine data.
Joel, now a regional sales manager, highlighted a time when his team members noticed excessive idle time across Whitby Farms’ entire fleet. Idle time often increases fuel utilization costs and wear and tear on tractors’ engines. In fact, idling can be detrimental to the environment and health of people, although some idling is necessary at least 10 to 40% of the time, according to a 2019 study from the Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences.
Joel noticed that Whitby tractors were idling significantly above that margin and called Brennan.
“I remember when he called and pointed out that we might have some problems with idling time,” Brennan remembered. “So, he brought out a report showing our entire fleet’s idle time and that it could be costing us more than $100,000.”
Take a look at how RDO's partnership with Whitby Farms helped reduce idle time and decrease costs.
Brennan, taken aback, then remembers how RDO team members like Joel asked what they can do to help him and other Whitby family members monitor this issue.
“I appreciated that because most people would have just said, ‘Hey, this is happening. Stop it and take care of it or not, it is on you.'," he said.
Because of the information provided by RDO team members' explaining their fleets’ telematics data sets in JDLink’s Machine Analyzer, Brennan said he and his family were able to compare fuel utilization among specific groups of equipment, separated by machine types. Meeting with RDO Connected Support team members, the Whitby brothers devised a program to reduce idle time and decrease costs through auto-idle or shutdown applications and ensuring each piece of equipment worked in eco-mode (optimal gear) when possible.
“John Deere has a lot of capability there that I do not think people realize. I mean, we didn’t realize it, and there are still things we are learning,” he said.
Today, Joel focuses on finding solutions to help the Whitby family to continue to build and grow their farm. their farm becoming one of the largest hay producers in the United States while expanding to grow Blue and Orchard Grass and fruits like apples and cherries, and more.
“We know that we are earning our customers’ trust every day by providing not just exceptional service but also insights that lead to greater efficiencies,” Joel said. “There is a true partnership between RDO and Whitby Farms. We don’t see our role as just offering a service but as investing in their business.”
Family operations like the Whitbys show how operators of all sizes can reap significant benefits from streamlining their machines and working with a well-coordinated service group.
-- Discover more stories about how RDO team members help customers to build and grow their business for the future.
-- Part of this story was originally published on Farm Journal’s AgWeb site.