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Ron Offutt Talks Farming on the Agriculture Technology Podcast

20 Jun 2024  •  Tony Kramer

You can find past podcast episodes and view show notes by visiting our podcast website.    

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Read the entire transcript from the latest episode. 

Tony Kramer: Hi, I'm Tony Kramer, your host of the Agriculture Technology Podcast. I'm sitting down with agriculture technology and equipment experts to help you enhance your operation for today, tomorrow, and into the future. In this episode, I sit down with Mr. Ron Offutt to celebrate our 200th episode of the RDO Agriculture Technology Podcast. With that, let's dive into the show. 200 episodes. We've made it. This is a huge accomplishment for us. We are very excited to have made it this far. A big shout out, a big thank you, goes to all of you, our listeners. Everybody that has subscribed to the show, shared this show with friends, family, coworkers, whoever you are talking to about the RDO Agriculture Technology Podcast, we want to thank you.

Episode 200 is a major accomplishment for us. We are very excited to continue on this journey, sharing more information, more technology, and just talk to industry experts within the agriculture industry. Episode 200, with this being a very special episode, we thought it would be a great opportunity to sit down and chat with Mr. RDO himself, Ron Offutt, the founder of RDO Equipment Company. More importantly, he is a lifelong farmer and very skilled entrepreneur. Ron, thank you very much for joining us on the show today. Very excited to sit down and chat with you.

Ron Offutt: Thank you for the nice words. I think the words might exceed the person.

Tony: Lifelong farmer. Let's start there. You started farming with dad back in the day as a young teenager. Tell us a little bit more about how that partnership started and you and dad got to where you are.

Ron: When I graduated from college, my dad asked me if I wanted to go to work for him. I said, "No, but I'll be your partner." That upset him a little bit that I was that arrogant. He thought it over for a day or two and he says, "How do you see it working?" I said, "Well," obviously, I just got out of school, had a family, "I haven't got any money, so you're going to have to take a note on me. I'll sign the notes at the bank right alongside of you and I'll buy half of the operation by signing a note to you."

Long story short, I signed a note to him for $40,000. It was worth $80,000 back in 1965. That included all of his assets minus his debt, except for the home place, 160 acres. That's how it started. Farmed like he had for many years, for three years. Didn't move the ball very far. Back in those days, we were taking both production risk and market risk. If you had big production, the market would kick you. If you had low production, the market would be good. Long story short, we weren't making much money, which led me into the equipment business and was the driver of saying, "Maybe there's an easier life out here."

In the fall of 1968, a good personal friend of my dad's and mine was a John Deere dealer in Castleton. He asked me, "I'm going to retire this year. If you could come up with $100,000," he said, "I'll sell you this place." $100,000 is way beyond my grasp of how I would do that, but I got thinking about it. Went home and I talked to my dad. Long story short, we sold a quarter of our land, a potato warehouse. My grandmother, my father's mother, loaned us $10,000 to get to the $100,000. That's how the equipment company got launched. There's interesting stories behind that. That's where the beginnings were.

Tony: That is a great story. You answered that question of, how does a young farmer get into the equipment industry. You said it right there, it had to deal with market fluctuation, what you were doing, or how things were flowing as farming. You get into the equipment business, you've been a farmer, you continue to farm while owning the equipment business and running all of that. What are some of the major changes you've seen in terms of farming practices over the last 60 years of farming and equipment ownership?

Ron: The first tractor that I sold back in 1968 was a 4020 John Deere. I sold it for $6,800. Today, mowers cost twice that. The huge price increase of equipment is a major change, but the productivity of the equipment has also changed immensely. When you look at it from a 50-year-plus point of view, when you were driving around through the countryside, you could tell you're good farmers from your average farmers because if the roads were straight and the fields was clean, you could say that was a good farmer. Today, all rows are straight and all fields are clean, due to technology and Roundup.

Tony: You can't tell the difference anymore. That is a very good point. I do want to add that your first tractor being sold, a 4020. That is actually a close tractor to me. I spent many hours on a 4020 as a kid picking rock for dad and his brothers, many hours in the seat, and riding on the trailer behind a 4020 tractor. That's a neat connection there.

Ron: It is.

Tony: Moving on to the next question, you actually brought it up, the technology. Implementing the technology, allowing farmers to be more efficient, more productive, and just all around better farmers. What are some of the most influential or transformative technologies that you feel changed ag drastically?

Ron: I think the most important thing, from my perspective, was GPS steering. It was the first and really the major breakthrough beyond that today.

Tony: Absolutely. I would agree with you. That was probably one of the largest back in the late '90s, early 2000s, the introduction of the guided steering and GPS technology. Now we are to the point of sense and act solutions of having cameras on the equipment, making decisions for us. It has grown and will continue to grow. What advice would you have to other farmers if they're hesitant to adopt some of these new technologies?

Ron: Farming and agriculture production is a very competitive world. If your production and your marketing and everything else that goes to making a profit are behind average, you're not going to make much money. Every one of the technologies, one degree or another, creates a more efficient operation and either saves money on inputs or labor. I think you just got to do it. It's like saying that the old pay phones, they disappeared and the mobile phone came out.

Tony: Anything technology, whether it's in agriculture or just in everyday life, technology is meant to make life easier, help us be more efficient, more effective, more productive. As you look in the direction of the future of agriculture, what excites you the most of where we are today and where the agriculture industry is going?

Ron: With the growing population on the planet, the demand for more and more production is going to continue. I think anybody today thinking about the agricultural world, it's pretty exciting. I'd be more apt to go to agriculture today than the day I actually did, just because of the opportunity that exists today and will exist tomorrow. World leaders and everything else, they all crash and burn, but people still got to eat. Being part of that chain is going to be tremendously exciting going forward, as it is today.

Tony: Absolutely. That's what I've always said, too, about agriculture. Similar to you, grew up in agriculture all my life. My father still farms with his brothers, and it is a very rewarding industry to be in agriculture and watch it grow. One of the things I always say here with RDO Equipment and what we do to support our customers is we are helping feed, fuel, and clothe the world. That's what makes such a big difference. That's what makes me so happy to get up, come to work every day at RDO Equipment, and do what we do in supporting the customers, supporting the industry.

Brings me to our last question here, young people. You talked about when you initially got into agriculture, you didn't realize the opportunity there. I had that same feeling. I had no plans of being in agriculture. I was going to sell motorcycles or campers or something. I wanted to be in the toy industry. I got the opportunity to become a sales intern for RDO Equipment at the Moorhead store. Here we are, been with the organization 13 years. The rest is history. We're here in agriculture and I'm very passionate about it. What advice do you have to these young kids that maybe they're not sure, maybe they don't know anything about the agriculture industry? What can you share with them that would encourage them to either continue into the agriculture industry or even take a look at the agriculture industry? What could help them brighten their future?

Ron: Got a philosophical thought. When you're young, you've got to have two or three different jobs, maybe, so make sure that's not something you want to do permanently. If they're thinking about it, give it a try someplace, either working for a company or being a farmer, which is a difficult deal to get started, but give it a try. If you can create the passion within yourself, that you really love what you do, man, work just becomes a joy. If you hate it, work is a big pain in the butt. You got to follow your passion and your desires.

Tony: I can attest to that theory, that mindset. I have found that passion in the ag industry here at RDO Equipment. Great organization that you have built, founded back in 1968 and built it to where we are today. Kudos to you and everything you've done in your career and everything you've built. With that, Ron, I want to thank you very much for everything you've done in the ag industry, everything you have done with RDO Equipment, every corner of agriculture that you have touched. You have made a large difference within this industry. Again, kudos to you. Thank you very much for sitting down with me today. Do you have any final thoughts that you'd like to share with our listeners?

Ron: I just want to thank you for inviting me to come on your podcast. The fact that it's the 200th podcast is amazing to me. It is amazing to me. Thank you very much for inviting me.

Tony: Please take a moment to subscribe to the podcast if you haven't already. You can subscribe to the show on the many different podcasting apps that we're streaming this out to such as Apple, Google, as well as many others. While you're out there, drop us a review. We'd love to hear what you think about the show. Finally, make sure to follow RDO Equipment Company on Facebook, Instagram, X, and catch all of our latest videos on YouTube. You can also follow me on X @RDOTonyK.

Tony Kramer

Tony Kramer is the Product Manager of Planting Technology and a Certified Crop Advisor at RDO Equipment Co. He is also the host of the Agriculture Technology podcast. If you have any questions for Tony or would like to be a guest on the podcast, you can find him on X at @RDOTonyK.

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