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Ask the Expert: John Wilkins, Valley Tool

Technology is a hot topic that I get lots of questions about. The average consumer doesn't realize just how much technology and advances farmers use every day. This certainty isn't the day of cows and plows anymore.

Ask the Expert is a series of posts to answer your questions. I asked you what questions you had about technology and I went out to answer those questions. I am bringing in what I consider industry experts to answer these tough questions and to provide another view point. I am by no means an expert on these tough questions, so I found the experts for you!

Valley Tool and Manufacturing is a company I became familiar with when they acquired the Vrisimo orchard mowers. They are a popular orchard mower that my father used. I enlisted John Wilkins, who is a sales representative for the company, to help me answer your techie questions.

Almond Girl Jenny (AG): Can you give us a brief introduction of your company?
John Wilkins (JW): Valley Tool & Manufacturing is a manufacturing business focused on industrial agriculture machinery. The brands we manufacture include Vrisimo (flail mowers and shredders), Windmill Spraymaster, RockHound, and BrushHound.
The company was created after a few bad years of peach crops in 1968-69' when the Brenda family had to start over from scratch. The family sold the farm and opened up Valley Tool & Manufacturing in Hughson. The entire facility was only about 1,000 square feet. We began as a tool sharpening business for bay area machine shops and over the next decade began to do bid work for companies in the steel industry such as US Steel and Lockheed Martin.
As we grew, Fred Brenda developed Valley Tool into a full-fledged fabrication shop with a wide variety of capabilities. Then, in the 1980’s, we diversified again by purchasing the Vrisimo Ag mower brand and later Windmill Spraymaster. In the last few years, we’ve developed our newest brands, RockHound & BrushHound Attachments – equipment companies focused on contractor and forestry equipment.
We’re proud to still be a family-owned business and committed to developing Valley Tool as the next generation steps in. Currently, Fred serves as President and his son, Vaughn, is our Vice President.

AG: How have advances in technology changed equipment manufacturing?
JW: That’s a question that is really difficult to answer quickly!  Technology has impacted our company in almost every facet, not just in the type of end product we manufacture.  Yes, our mowers themselves have advanced as technology has, but we’ve seen technology impact us in how we manufacture, how we sell, how we market, even how we handle accounting.  Over the last 10+ years, we have developed a line of excavator and skid steer mounted mowers and shredders that with previously available technology would not have been viable.  Ultimately, it has allowed us to diversify in what we build, to become more efficient in how we build it, and to be more effective in how we reach people with it.

AG: How has technology changed what equipment farmers demand?
The biggest impact that I can point to with regards to technology has to be expectations.  As technology improves, expectations for higher reliability, improved features, and faster delivery windows also grow with it.  Truthfully, that’s great for us as manufacturers because it pushes us to continue to innovate and improve not just our products, but our manufacturing and business processes as well.  Technology is allowing us to make those necessary changes at a much quicker pace than ever before.

AG: What is the biggest change in farmer’s request from you in the past 10 years?
JW: One of the biggest changes we’ve seen over the last 10 years is the necessity for brush shredding and all of the complications that come along with it.  We’ve gone from being able to push and burn pruned material to trying to shred it so fine that it doesn’t cause problems for processors.  
Vrimiso mower photo courtesy of Valley Tool

AG: What new technology are you working on to help advance farmers for the next 10 years?
JW: Without getting into too much detail, our goal is to help farmers with three main things:  reduce downtime, improve public perception, and increase efficiency.  Mowers are relatively simple, but improvements in bearing technology, knife technology, drum balancing methodology, and other things are definitely on the table to help provide farmers with a “better mousetrap” as we continue to see a rise in commercial farming. 

Brush Hound photo courtesy of Valley Tool

Spraymaster photo courtesy of Valley Tool

AG: How has technology changed the way farmers look at doing business?
JW: One thing that has certainly seemed to change in how farmers do business with us is how informed people are before we even have a conversation.  Technology has certainly created expectations of faster response times, shorter lead times and reduced down times.  We have also seen that with the rise of social media, online news outlets, etc., some farmers seem to be much more conscious about the public perception of their practices when making a decision.

It was a pleasure to discuss technology and farming with John. I hope we have dug deep into your questions. Have more? Simply comment below, send me an email or look me up on social media to ask more!

Don't miss out on the Ask the Expert series
Mike Mulligan, Glory Bee
Matthew Haddon, Sierra Gold

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny


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