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Mike: Cutting down downtime

Photo by Bill Spiegel

Mike Barnett has well over two decades of experience on the wheat harvest trail as a leader with the John Deere Harvester Works Customer Support Team. For this special edition of the All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ podcastMike is on the line with AAWH’s Sarah Moyer discuss the evolution of this support team and how he started with the program. Tune in to step out on the road with Mike.


The down time is the one thing that we can help control. You know, that’s what we shoot for.

Welcome on to this All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ podcast. I’m Sarah Moyer. This time we had a very special guest from the John Deere Harvester Works Customer Support Team. Mike Barnett has been a cornerstone for that program, and this year does mark his final run on the harvest trail, working with that team. So we’ve brought him on to share some experience and reflect on his many years of being out on the harvest trailLet’s start from the beginning. Mike how did you get started on the Harvester Support Team?

OK. You’re taking me back in time hereWe started the support team back in 1991. I think it came about after the introduction of the 9000 series combines. Quite a few custom harvesters were buying the new John Deere 9600s is what we were at the timeSo we had to come up with a way to support them. Some meetings were held, and you know between branch people and factory people. We came up this idea to havecouple parts vans that would follow the trail with the custom cutters, you know, for additional support.

And that’s obviously been working out pretty well. You guys run clear through with the harvesters. Correct?

Yeah, the first year we went out it was two 43-foot semi trailers, and we had four guys. I was one of the volunteers. You know, we weren’t really sure what we were doing... I was working with the Kansas City branch at that time, and we were parts people. We weren’t really sure what we were getting into, but I think what we decided to do when these meetings [were held] was that we had to figure out where we were going to go. So we set up, you know, all the way from Texas to Montana and Oklahoma to South Dakota. We just picked out the biggest concentration of the custom cutters, and then we picked out a John Deere dealer that was in the middle of that concentration. So that’s kind of how we wound up going where we go – where we set up every year.

So does that change much from year to year? It’s pretty consistent. Correct? 

It’s been pretty consistent. We’ve made a couple of changes. We kind of hopscotch over each other up to a city in Nebraska and Fort Morgan… and then after that, you know, we split. A few years back, we used to be more towards eastern South Dakota and North Dakota, but that area started going towards a lot more row crop. So we moved from like Aberdeen, South Dakota over to Selby… and Jamestown, North Dakota over to Minot, I think it was. So we had to make some moves west to adjust a little bit.

Before you were on the team and before you got your start there, did you have a background in agriculture or was it more mechanical… What was your experience like before you joined this team?

When I was working for John Deere, I worked at the Kansas City parts depot at that time.  

When you have new guys come on your team, do you train them? Is it just a hands-on learning experience for them after that?

Yeah, once we kind of evolved over the years, there for a while, you know, the factory… we were two separate entities. Kansas City branch kind of took care of the parts. And Harvester Works got a couple guys at that time that were kind of the service end of it. The whole thing just kept getting bigger and bigger as the years went on. I remember after the first year that we went out, I did know a whole lot. Like I said before, we weren’t sure what we were doing. But that first year when we went out… I asked a lot of questions. I didn’t know that much about custom harvesting. I wasn’t that familiar with the business. For that first year I was out, I listen a lot more than I talked. I learned a lot and after that harvest was over, I was hooked. I couldn’t wait ’till the next one.

And that was just the beginning of many harvest years with your team, and let’s have you share some keys to success in a moment after thanking our sponsors for this podcast. those are High Plains Journal and John Deere. We do appreciate your support as we work to share the stories of the custom harvesting community.

speaking of partnership, the partnership between the customers and the John Deere Harvester Works Customer Support Team
 is a strong one, and that is something that you’ve cherished over the years. After that first year, will you tell us how the rest of the beginning of your story began to play out?

So I went back, and I said, “OK, we have to make some improvements. We have to make some changes to make this whole deal a little bit better.” And my managers at that time pretty much gave us whatever we wanted. So we upped the inventory. We made some changes to the parts trailers – anything, you know, to make us a little bit bigger and a little bit better. And that’s kind of what’s happened… over the years. We just keep growing and growing itThen, I think in 1999 or 2000 the branch and Harvester Works kind of merged the program, so that now it all falls under the harvester works wing… And we continue to grow itYou know, we went from two 43-foot semis to now… we’ve got four 53-foot semis and eight or ten service trucks. It’s getting to be quite a show, and every year we keep trying to make it bigger and better.

And as you’re making that bigger and better, over the years the combines have been getting bigger and grander as well, right? 


And there’s probably more to know and more expertise [involved], so luckily over the years you’ve had the chance to do some gradual learning as the machines have been upgrading and things like that. One of the life lessons I’m sure from harvest that you know, especially as a parts person, is that there will be breakdowns. What other life lessons are there to be learned on the harvest trail whether that be through your perspective or anyone who’s involved? 

Well, that’s a good question. The thing I guess that I’ve learned about this is the job got to be done no matter what… From my standpoint, you know, these guys have a pretty tough job. It can be that way. I think that they have enough challenges in their business… like the weather is a big challenge and having a good crew is a big challengeYou know, downtime for the machines is another huge challenge. And we can’t really do anything about their crew, and we can’t really do anything about their weather. But the downtime is one thing that we can help control. You know, that’s what we shoot for, so the way we kind of look at it is we don’t want anybody to have to wait over night for parts – for anything. If they break down, we want to get them going again just as quick as we possibly can. With the parts trailers and we have a great dealer network, that’s what we shoot for. It’s not always the case, but you know that’s our goal. And I think we do a pretty good job of it.

That was Mike Barnett nicknamed “Barney,” and he’ll be joining us again for the next edition of All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ podcast. Once again, Mike is with the John Deere Harvester Works Customer Support Team. He’s been with them since the beginning of its inception, and we look forward to speaking with him again next week. We would like to take this chance to thank our partners in this podcast. Those are AgriPro, Unverferth Manufacturing Company, I.T.C. and the Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children’s Ten Acre Challenge. For more information on those partners and High Plains Journal and John Deere, you can visit the All Aboard website at allaboardharvest.com. Find earlier editions of the podcasts under the “Media” tab and feel free to browse through the blog posts that are available on that site as well. Until next week, I’m Sarah Moyer, and you’ve been listening to this All Aboard Wheat Harvest™ podcast.


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