A conversation with NICOLA LEMKEN
“We encourage our employees to play an active role in shaping
processes and reward suggestions for improvement.”
Mrs. Lemken, you can look back on an impressive 240 years of company history. What was decisive for the development and success of LEMKEN during this time?
In 1780, Wilhelmus Lemken laid the foundation for very successful company development with a small forge in Xanten on the Lower Rhine. Today, LEMKEN is one of the leading suppliers of professional plant cultivation technology, with over 1,600 employees and 29 of its own sales locations worldwide. The first plows, cultivators, and harrows were forged for the local farming community. These initial products are still part of the product range today. From 1969 onwards, my father Viktor Lemken took over the management of the company and pushed it forward through innovations that shaped the industry. Today, LEMKEN is the most experienced plow specialist in all major agricultural markets and sets a global benchmark. Since the 1980s, the technology for stubble cultivation has been consistently developed and in the 1990s, seeding technology was added. LEMKEN is one of the world’s leading companies in both areas thanks to its innovative products. Since 2018, the latest product group in LEMKEN’s portfolio has been the hoeing technology of Dutch specialist Steketee, which enables crop protection without chemicals. Above all, opening of the eastern markets in the 1990s further boosted our export orientation, and the strong growth led to a steady increase in the number of employees.
Managing Partner, LEMKEN GmbH & Co. KG.
What characterizes your personal or the management style of the LEMKEN management team, and what role does being a traditional family business that is led by a woman for the first time in the seventh generation play?
We maintain a distinctly appreciative employee culture and open communication. We place great importance on long-term experience and promoting employees. That is why many of our employees spend their entire working lives at LEMKEN – we celebrate many 25th or 35th company anniversaries every year. We encourage our employees to play an active role in shaping processes in the company and reward their suggestions for improvement. We see ourselves as a diverse and tolerant company in which gender roles or cultural backgrounds are not relevant. This is what we live by and what we expect from all our managers and employees. The cooperation between me as shareholder and Anthony van der Ley as Managing Director is based on an equal footing. Tradition plays a role in that it is accompanied by a certain self-understanding and awareness of a high level of responsibility.
Topics such as nutrition and sustainability continue to gain in importance. Agriculture has a key role to play in this. How do you position LEMKEN for a successful future in this context?
Sustainable management is in agriculture’s own best interest. After all, farmers must protect and care for their soil to ensure good harvests in the long term. But of course, agriculture must also take into account the realities of climate change and increasingly scarce resources. As a manufacturer, we support this, for example, with machines that minimize impact on soil and reduce evaporation. Eliminating chemical pesticides also plays an important role, for which we offer hoeing technology for mechanical weed control. However, we must not lose sight of securing food for the world’s growing population. This can only be guaranteed in the long term through efficient management and a high degree of mechanization in cultivation. Our development department is continuously addressing these issues and thinking ahead to contribute to sustainable high yields with improved and new products.
How important will the use of AI and robotics be in this development? And how strongly do you rely on your subsidiary Steketee to achieve this?
The use of artificial intelligence and robotics is certainly the future of agriculture. However, a vast amount of research is still needed for safe, autonomous control. Therefore, it will take a while before it becomes the standard. Even more interesting applications arise from the use of sensor technology to not only automate soil cultivation but also qualitatively optimize the process and thereby yields.
Steketee’s hoeing technology already includes very specific machine concepts with camera and software-controlled intelligent processing methods. Automated small units will also be available in the future. Because with around-the-clock availability, economic efficiency and thereby the optimal size changes.
What ideas do you pursue to ensure that your company remains innovative and can hold its own in global competition without losing its regional roots?
We are a family business and want to stay that way. We are also one of the largest employers in our region and have been based here from the very beginning. However, this does not prevent us from gaining experience in all regions of the world and developing products for respective markets. We are adaptable and flexible and also have sufficient reserves to pursue groundbreaking projects with staying power. Specializing in a range of equipment and specific arable farming methods is a great advantage for us, because the expertise we have acquired through specialization drives us and spurs the development of forward-looking technologies.
In addition, customer support and service are becoming even more important as products and processes become more complex, requiring well-trained specialists. LEMKEN maintains a large network of sales and service experts in the field, who achieve a high level of trust with increasingly demanding customers.
LEMKEN – 240 years of company history
In 1780, Wilhelmus Lemken laid the foundation for a successful company development with a small forge in Xanten on the Lower Rhine. Today, LEMKEN is one of the world’s leading suppliers of professional plant cultivation technology with more than 1,600 employees and 29 of its own sales locations around the world. The first plows, cultivators, and harrows were forged for the local farming community – these remain part of the product range at LEMKEN. Starting in 1969, Viktor Lemken took over the management and pushed the company forward through innovations that shaped the industry. Today, LEMKEN is the most experienced plow specialist in all major agricultural markets and sets a global benchmark. Since the 1980s, the technology for stubble cultivation has been consistently developed and in the 1990s, seeding technology was added. LEMKEN is one of the world’s leading companies in both areas thanks to its innovative products. Since 2018, the latest product group in LEMKEN’s portfolio has been the hoeing technology of Dutch specialist and subsidiary Steketee, which enables crop protection without chemicals. LEMKEN’s export orientation was further stimulated, above all, by the opening of the Eastern markets starting in 1990, and the strong growth also led to a steady increase in the number of employees in the company.