Agriculture is one of the world's oldest trades, but it's not an ageless one. And Roger Hoy, the new director of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Tractor Test Laboratory, is ready to roll up his sleeves and make sure the 87-year-old operation still meets the needs of today's industry.
Hoy has the traditional background of a producer with more than a decade of experience in industry. Hoy grew up helping his father with the family's beef cattle operation near Crawford, Ga. He studied agricultural engineering at the University of Georgia but found his job prospects were limited.
"I was one of those unfortunate people getting an agriculture-related degree in the early 1980s," Hoy said. Because of the farm crisis, few companies were hiring new employees.
He took a job making brakes for diesel trucks and stayed involved in the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers in hopes of changing careers when the economy improved.
While working as the development manager at Jacobs Vehicle Equipment Co., he met his mentor, Jim Ruff, who worked for John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa. Hoy and Ruff ended up at North Carolina State University–Hoy to finish his master's and doctoral degrees, and Ruff to teach. Ruff eventually returned to John Deere, and Hoy was hired in 1999 as a staff engineer with the company's Product Engineering Center.
"Here's my deep, dark secret," Hoy said. "Our family was traditionally an International Harvester family. They've converted to green now, but there was a lot of brand loyalty 30 or 40 years ago. You were either a red guy or a green guy."
Red is the color of CaseIH farm equipment. Green is emblematic of John Deere.
Hoy said even as a college student, he was aware of the Tractor Test Lab's expertise and feels fortunate to be here–and oversee the testing of farm equipment of any color.
UNL is the only university in the United States to have such a lab, which was formed because former State Sen. Wilmot F. Crozier purchased a tractor and was unhappy with its performance. He introduced a bill in the 1918 Legislature that required any tractor sold in Nebraska to be tested to ensure it performed as the manufacturer claimed. Thus, the Tractor Test Lab opened in 1919.
Nebraska is still the only state to have such a law, Hoy said, but almost all models end up being evaluated at the Tractor Test Lab anyway. The lab also is certified to test tractors to ensure they meet European standards required by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The most common tests include measuring the horsepower of drawbars, a machine's power takeoff capability and the weight forced hydraulic lifts can bear.
On average, the lab tests 25 tractors annually. Hoy said most testing happens in the spring and in the fall because outdoor temperatures greatly affect performance.
Hoy said his goal was to make the lab as useful to industry as possible, which could mean offering new tests and services that manufacturers request.
"They pay fees for their equipment to be tested," he said. "Leonard Bashford did a lot to move the lab from an antagonistic regulatory body–at least that's how some people saw us–to one of the industry's partners." Bashford, the previous lab director, retired Aug. 31.
Hoy said he also planned to promote the lab's educational value. Each year the lab hires eight to 10 undergraduates who oversee many of the tests. It's a powerful learning and recruiting tool no other school can offer, he said.
"The students here are very prized by industry," Hoy said. "If you have experience and a good GPA, you stand above the others."
He said he wouldn't be content to let the lab coast on reputation. He said the lab may need to develop new tests because technology has changed. For example, most tests are configured for traditional transmissions but manufacturers are increasingly using infinitely bearable transmissions. That means tests might not be as accurate as they could be, Hoy said.
He's also pushing to upgrade the 50-yearold concrete track, which is cracking and showing signs of age. Pending approval from the Board of Regents, the track would be replaced in time for the fall 2007 testing season.
"There's tremendous opportunity here. There's a lot we could do, but we can't do everything all at once."
He'll also start teaching agricultural engineering classes in 2007. Hoy said in addition to being farmers, his father and grandfather were college professors "and I was supposed to be one too."
His expertise is rollover protection structures, which are built into the cab to protect the driver if the tractor rolls. ROPS weren't standard equipment until the 1980s even though they had been used in some tractors since the late 1950s. Hoy said the majority of farming fatalities are the result of rollovers in which the tractor lacks a protective structure and the driver isn't wearing a seatbelt. As director of the Tractor Test Lab, he will advocate for standard worldwide testing of the effectiveness of ROPS.