It isn’t a riddle, but sure reads like one: What material helps people with disabilities walk, helps passenger jets fly further and faster; and just helped win the Indy 500?
The answer is carbon fiber.
If you’re not familiar with this space-age polymer, it’s made up of tiny filaments one-tenth of the thickness of a human hair. But when bundled and woven, it becomes stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum.
This exotic material is being used extensively in prosthetic devices, race cars, and aircraft because of its strength, weight reduction, and resistance to fatigue.
For John Deere customers, carbon fiber provides industry-leading advantages where it matters most.
In the field.
A Boom for Business
If you’re looking for some of the richest soil on earth, look no further than Kansas.
“Our family farms approximately 3,200 acres in the northwest part of the state,” says Harvey Kistler. “We’ve been working this land for decades but this year, we’re doing things a bit differently. In fact, this is a whole new deal for me.”
Kistler, like many John Deere customers, is always looking for new ways to make his business more efficient, effective, and profitable. That’s why he bought a R4038 Sprayer equipped with a 120-foot carbon fiber boom.
“I’ve used 100-foot steel booms all of my life, so going to a bigger model made of composite material was a big change,” he says. “So far, I’m really impressed with it. I’m saving weight and covering more ground at the same time. Plus, it’s easy to clean and it won’t rust.”
This cutting-edge technology is, for John Deere, both evolutionary and revolutionary.
“Carbon fiber lets us better balance the loading on the front and rear axles. And since we’re saving weight, we can put more liquids on the vehicle and keep the same overall mass,” says Tom Bartlett, supervisor of Product Engineering at John Deere Des Moines Works. “The best part, though, is the benefit for our customers. With carbon fiber products, they can be more productive. They can go wider without a weight penalty, cover more acres, experience less soil compaction, and the reduction in ground pressure positively effects yield.”
Deere and the King
Our first foray into the world of carbon fiber came after a meeting with the king.
King Agro, that is.
In 2015, John Deere began a partnership with King Agro to design, develop, and distribute carbon fiber booms exclusively for John Deere application equipment. Both companies worked so well together that Deere bought King Agro in March. Today, King Agro builds the booms and ships them to Deere factories in Des Moines and Horst, Netherlands for final assembly.
“King Agro is the global leader in carbon fiber boom manufacturing and they are, without a doubt, the best around,” says Aaron Wetzel, vice president of John Deere’s Ag & Turf Crop Care Platform. “We’re so excited to integrate their expertise into our products because we can help farmers become even more productive.”
King Agro – which has headquarters and a factory in Spain, plus a production facility in Argentina – opened its doors more than 30 years ago. The company soon became a powerhouse in the high-performance boating industry, thanks in large part to carbon fiber masts for sailing yachts.
But an unexpected wave in 2008 nearly sank the family-owned business.
“That’s when the worldwide economic recession started. The luxury marine market took a huge hit, our sales dropped dramatically, and we stopped building boats. We were in crisis mode because our company was in jeopardy,” says King Agro’s Natalia Dacko. “We had a large staff of technicians, engineers, and specialists – all of whom were experts in carbon fiber. The big question was, ‘what are we going to do now?’
“Then one day, we got a call from a man in Argentina who built sprayer booms. He was overwhelmed by problems with his products and asked for our help. He told us he’d like for booms to be lighter, longer, free of fatigue, corrosion-proof, and easy to repair.”
Although King Agro had no experience in agriculture, its employees built a prototype out of carbon fiber. The customer loved it, a new business was built, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“We’ve come so far and now, to be a part of John Deere, it’s just fantastic,” Dacko says. “We’re passionate about helping farmers increase productivity and together, with our capacity to innovate and create high-tech composite materials, we can transform farming practices.”
A Brighter, Lighter, and Stronger Future
Back in Kansas, Tyrone Martin of John Deere dealer American Implement says customers are increasingly interested in carbon fiber booms.
“They’re a great addition to the John Deere sprayer lineup,” he says. “The weight reduction gained by the carbon fiber option over steel shows our commitment to meeting the needs of the customer.”
In this part of the U.S., where fields extend as far as the eye can see, increased width is critical.
“That’s a key selling point. There are two widths available, 120-feet and 132-feet. Both choices enable famers to make fewer passes,” says Martin. “Plus, we tell potential customers that they’ll be reducing weight by 30% and saving time because the boom stays cleaner.”
While many customers are waiting to see how the booms perform this year, Kistler says he’s made up his mind.
“If I was buying a new one today,” he says, “I’d probably go back to carbon fiber.”
Kistler isn’t alone. In fact, more farmers throughout the world are choosing John Deere carbon fiber booms.
Sales are particularly strong in North America and South America, respectively. In Brazil, where Deere first offered carbon fiber booms, customers continue to rave about the lower weight and increased width compared to traditional steel products. And in the future, chances are you’ll be seeing more carbon fiber features integrated into John Deere equipment.
“We do see applications for carbon fiber in other products,” says Wetzel. “In the coming years, we’ll explore additional opportunities where the light weight and stronger-than-steel capabilities will add additional value to our products for our customers.”