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North Dakota farmer in search of a combine to remind him of the 1980s, rising interest rates

"Some guys want the lost GTO or Camaro of their youth," said Paul Anderson. "I am looking for the 7720 I learned to run when I was a teenager."

7720.jpg
A 1981 John Deere 7720 Combine currently for sale.
Contributed / MachineryPete.com

Paul Anderson, a farmer in McLean County, North Dakota, is looking to bring home a combine that he last saw 30 years ago.

Anderson โ€” whose dad moved to the area in 1968 to be near his mom's family โ€” said his family has grown wheat since the 1970s. His family is still farming, but he said the crop rotation is much more diversified now.

Anderson put out a call on social media to find a combine that holds a significant meaning to him and his family.

The machine he's looking for is a 1981 model John Deere 7720 combine, serial number 461271. His dad traded the combine at an RDO Equipment dealership in Washburn in 1993. Anderson said he knew the next two owners of the combine after they traded it, but lost track after that. 

Why Anderson wants the specific machine back is more than just sentimental reasoning. 

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"When Dad bought that machine, he financed it through John Deere financial, and it was supposed to be financed at a 19.5% interest rate," said Anderson. "And then when Dad got his first statement from John Deere, the interest rate on that thing was 21%."

He said his father asked the dealer how it could be 21% when they had locked in the agreed upon 19.5%, and the dealer explained that he thought the interest rates would go down but they never did. Anderson said his dad asked the dealer who was going to make up that extra percent and a half. 

"Dad got stuck paying 21% interest on that combine," said Anderson. "So the reason I want it back is to park it in my driveway, next to the Anderson Farms sign โ€” and I want it to remind me what 21% interest looks like."

The 1980s

"That was the '80s, and somehow we survived it," said Anderson. 

He said he's paying close attention to the interest rates now, and is curious to see if the Federal Reserve will continue to raise them or if West Coast banking failures will put a pause to it. 

"It'll be interesting," said Anderson. "But ag bankers, and the current crop of loan officers out there, at least have an institutional memory of what happened in the '80s, and those high interest rates and how farms got in trouble with those."

As Anderson got older, the interest rates went back down again, but he's worried about the demographic trends of U.S. generations and how they invest their money. 

"We have a big generation of boomers now retiring and pulling their money out of risky investments, like the stock market, and going into cash and T-bills, which are much more conservative, and so that's making capital more scarce," said Anderson. "That's why why interest rates, regardless of what the Fed does, they have to go up anyway."

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He predicts that interest rates won't come back down for at least another decade, when the millennial generation will have had the time to pay off their houses and work up a savings. 

Tracking down the combine

Initially, Anderson said he had one number wrong on the serial number, resulting in him tracking down the wrong combine in Illinois. Since then, he hasn't had any luck in the pursuit. 

But there's some hope on the horizon, in the form of a salvage yard in southwest North Dakota.

"He's got a bunch of combines, and he's going to go through his check serial numbers," said Anderson of the salvage yard owner. "He said he had about 11 or 12 7720s sitting down there."

Seeing the combine will likely spur other memories that Anderson has of using the machine. 

"I was a teenager when I learned to run that combine quite a bit," said Anderson of the fall of 1981. "We had started with a 7700, which is what I started running when I was much younger, but that combine was kind of a pain and broke down too much so we we got this good new 7720."

Anderson was in high school at that time, he said. 

"It was a good time," said Anderson. "Grain harvest was really simple โ€” get up and go to football practice at 6 a.m., and come home, rest for a couple hours, then get on the combine and run it until it was time to go back in for afternoon football practice."

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He said it's not necessarily common for farmers to keep track of where their machines go after they trade them. 

"Some machines I do, and some some machines I don't want to know where they went because I want to forget them," he said. "But the memories are generally pretty good with this one."

He said the farm just needed more capacity, which is why his dad traded in the 7720 for an 8820 Titan 2. 

"We still have that 8820," he said. 

Anderson said he's offering a finders fee if the current holder of the machine is willing to part with it. 

"That's negotiable," he said. 

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at nfish@agweek.com

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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