HORSCH MASCHINEN GMBH – DIGITALISING AGRICULTURE

HORSCH Maschinen GmbH has been active for roughly 35 years, owned and managed by one family and led by four family members working together. This family business is ready to drag farming into the 21st century.

“We are unique in that we lead the company as four people and not as an individual,” explains Philipp Horsch, Managing Director of HORSCH Maschinen.

“There is not one CEO, there are four CEOs. That means we always make decisions together. We have not once taken a decision without a full consensus. We talk about things, we don’t just take a vote, we take a conference and if we can’t find consensus we don’t decide.”

At its heart, HORSCH Maschinen is a farm equipment manufacturer, active in the implements sector-the tools that are connected to tractors in the field.

“We’re behind the tractor,” Horsch says. “Our implements are used for tillage, seeding, planting and crop care.”

The company is active worldwide, employing approximately 2,300 people and reaching a net revenue of 650 million euros. HORSCH produces equipment at six production sites around the world, three in Germany, one in the US, one in Brazil, and one in Russia, alongside a plethora of sales organisations.

From the very beginning, HORSCH was driven by a passion for farming and the pursuit of innovative, customer-centric solutions.

Only a few short years saw HORSCH Maschinen GmbH grow into a leading global manufacturer of agricultural implements. Philipp works alongside his brother Michael and his wife Cornelia Horsch, as well as their partner Theo Leeb as the faces of the company and together they drive innovative developments in the agricultural and farming sector. They are the founding generation of HORSCH, but they are following in the footsteps of Michael and Philipp’s father, Dankwart Horsch.

It was Dankwart Horsch who, in 1969, leased the Sitzenhof estate at the outskirts of Schwandorf. Dankwart Horsch had owned a small farm before, but in Sitzenhof he saw the chance to develop further. Many of his brothers and cousins were active in the agricultural sector, meaning that family reunions were almost industry networking events as well as a chance to catch up with relatives. The family supported each other when it came to finding solutions for agronomic problems or other issues that affected their farms. Together, they faced difficult conditions such as stony soils, or farms in barren mid-range mountain regions.

These conditions led some members of the Horsch family to consider the idea of farming according to the no-till system. At the time, farming without a plough was considered unorthodox at best, but the farmers in the Horsch family began developing a dynamic to look for alternative approaches. This met with raised eyebrows among neighbouring farmers who considered no-till farming absurd, but this only motivated the Horsch family further. This was the seed that HORSCH Maschinen GmbH would grow from.

In the 1990s, Philipp Horsch returned to the company after a year in the States, and from this time he became far more involved in the company. Soon he was head of the department’s R & D, service, and production.

Together with his brother Michael and Theo, the three drive equally with an extremely high pace technical innovation in the areas of modern cropping systems. Meanwhile, Cornelia builds the brand name and develops HORSCH’s superb dealer network around the world.

This mix of family-driven core competencies of HORSCH has made it the fastest-growing large agricultural implement manufacturer worldwide over the last two decades.

By its customers’ side

Today, HORSCH has built a name for itself by staying one step ahead of the latest trends in the agricultural sector. The company offers the agricultural machinery market the most innovative development, brilliant concepts, and latest ideas. From brand new inventions to further developments of technology that has been on the market for decades, HORSCH provides the customer with an even greater variety and utmost benefits.

“We focus on the customers’ needs in the areas of conservation tillage and the technology around that,” Philipp Horsch says. “We regularly set trends in the industry and of course when you’re able to set a trend it develops rapidly and that’s where our growth comes from.”

But more than that, HORSCH is a trusted partner to its customers, because of the close relationships it maintains with them as a family business.

“Extremely close end-user relationships are important to us,” Horsch says. “That’s one of our key competencies that sets us apart from the competition. We work closely with farmers, as a family. Our family members spend roughly a third to half of our complete time with the customers. We have an extreme customer focus.”

A trusted partner is a valuable resource for those in the agricultural sector right now, as new technologies are looking to change farming forever.

“When I talk about digital vision, it’s not so much digitalisation within the organisation but between us and the end-user, the farmer,” Horsch explains. “That is one of our biggest challenges, to speed up progress in this area and create proper models of service and tools for the end-user.”

A digital revolution

When talking about digitalisation, Horsch makes it clear he is not just talking about one thing. He sees digitalisation for HORSCH as a project spread across two main pillars.

“One is the technical product side. We have recently completed a system where all our implements are connected to the internet. From now on all the implements we sell to farmers are ready to be connected,” Horsch says.

The new system opens a huge variety of possibilities for the future, including predictive maintenance, various further service offerings and communication between the implementing machinery, HORSCH, and the end-user.

“It’s all about staying in touch with the implement and understanding where they’re running in the field around the globe,” Horsch says. “Predictive patterns support the sales organisation with that information.”

For Horsch this is not about creating an exciting new business model, it is about supporting the end-user at every step of the way.

“The other topic around digitalisation is the HORSCH Portal,” Horsch tells us proudly. “We developed it a couple of years ago. It is all about communication between us as a company and the end-user, the farmer, as well as the dealer selling our products. We are opening up communication with both.”

The Portal can offer end-users, documentation, interactive manuals, a fully automatic parts service, communication, and it is all about serving the farmer by supporting what they do in the field.

“We’ve got telematics system in place so a farmer can look at a screen and monitor everything around the implements,” Horsch says. “And we always support or offer all these functions for free to the end-user, or for very little money. It is about serving the farmer. These are our most important digital areas.”

A practical example of HORSCH’s tools in action is that the company now offers the very first automatic 3D parts catalogue, the first of its type in the world.

“Through the portal, a farmer can punch in a serial number, getting a parts breakdown for their machine, showing them only the relevant options,” Horsch explains.

A growing portofolio

HORSCH’s innovation has also bred creations such as the new Versa KR seed drill. This new design features an innovative metering system, providing electrically driven seed metering on the countershaft of the mechanical seed drill. Known as the SmartClip metering system, it has already proven especially popular among machine co-operatives and contractors for its flexibility with regard to the tramlines. The individual connection of the metering devices means they can be charged individually and without any tools. Row spacings can be adjusted, as can metering thanks to a stop valve between the spacing wheel and the cam wheel, allowing the farm to fit it to suit the seed they are using.

With a capacity of 900 litres for the seed hopper of the basic machine, it can also be extended in only two steps to a capacity of 1,500 litres.

The Versa KR’s electronic system communicates on ISOBUS standard, with a control concept optimised for touch terminals and allowing for individual, personalised adjustment to the display options. It also featured a double-disc coulter DuoDisc specifically been designed for the Versa line and equipped with the well-proven components of the TurboDisc seed coulters, guaranteeing an exact and even placement of the seed.

The Versa KR seed drill is accompanied by the new, universal HORSCH Avatar 12.25. This new range offers new equipment options, and an intuitive handling concept based on ISOBUS to make it easier for the farmer to adjust, operate and monitor their technology. Customers can adapt the touch terminal interface according to their own likes and requirements. This combination of new hardware and software creates a platform that supplies an almost unlimited number of components when metering.

At the same time, its well-proven folding concept means the transport dimensions are very compact, with an outside width of only three metres. This makes it ideal for road transport.

HORSCH’s newly developed seed hopper platform has a capacity of 6,500 litres. It can be ordered as a double hopper with its total capacity distributed according to a 60:40 ratio. To increase the range still further for crops such as rapeseed, a MiniDrill G&F option is also available.

This additional hopper has a capacity of 400 litres and is often used for seed, granulates or slug pellets. Its design means that filling stops are reduced and up to three additional components can be metered simultaneously.

Planning to improvise

These products show the range and innovation that HORSCH is bringing to the agricultural sector and that HORSCH’s technological developments are clearly one step ahead. The company is bringing the latest technology and capabilities to its customers and doing so while staying ahead of the latest trends, so you would expect the company to have planned its next steps down to the last detail. However, this is not the case.

“Most companies have a fiveor ten-year plan. We do not. We never did,” Horsch says. “I call the principle we are following ‘Driving on sight.’ So that means looking ahead, as far as we can see. When you have a factory project for one year, you have to look ahead one year. If we have a six-month project, we plan six months for that, and no further.”

This does not mean the company is not thinking about the future. A month ago, it started its largest investment program, investing 100 million euros in new premises around the world. But even here, the investments are about answering demand, not reaching revenue targets.

“We don’t do a plan for that in terms of what we want to achieve by when in terms of revenue. We reached our capacity limits, we needed to do something big, so we’re building our factory to potentially double in size,” Horsch says simply.

“A five-year plan is the worst thing you can do because you’re always looking at it and adjusting it. You spend time more time adjusting the plan than working.”

But while there is no five- or ten-year plan, HORSCH’s priorities and goals are clear.

“I see us moving on as we are, serving the large farmers around the world. I see us serving new megatrends,” he says. “Autonomy looks to be a significant one. By going into autonomy and autonomous vehicles we start to disrupt large markets, tractor markets, for instance, so we’re moving more and more into a disruptor position in the future.”

Horsch is also clear about the sort of impact he wants the company to have.

“Human health is an important topic for us. Everything from a farming perspective can contribute to human health,” he points out. “How to feed ourselves, how to support climate discussions, carbon sequestering, how to reduce the chemical and fertiliser input through efficiencies and how to produce more nutrient value in our foods. These are future topics we are pushing hard into. We call this new type of farming ‘Hybrid Farming’- taking from the organic and conventional schools of agriculture. One principle we are following is unpredictability is part of the system.”

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