As the year comes to a close, Rural Lifestyle Dealer has compiled the top articles from each month of 2020. Take a look at what stories were trending on in May 2020.

1. Consumer Reports: Most and Least Reliable Lawn Tractor Brands

In Consumer Reports’ latest survey of 11,217 subscribers, John Deere takes the top prize as the most reliable brand of lawn tractors and among the more reliable zero-turn-radius mowers. And reliability is key — in our fix-it surveys, readers told us that they're more likely to repair lawn tractors and ZTRs than any other products we ask about, even such big-ticket major appliances as washing machines and refrigerators.

But while several John Deere models, including the John Deere X350-42, $3,200, and the John Deere S240-42 Sport, $2,500, top our riding mower tests, they tend to be pricey, and you'll sacrifice a bit of performance if you zero in on a John Deere ZTR. So how heavily should you weigh reliability when deciding on the best riding mower for your property? Consider these key findings.

2. Lastec Introduces World's Biggest Zero Turn Mower

Lastec introduces the world’s biggest zero turn mower with the 120” cutting width WZ1000 flex deck commercial zero turn mower. The WZ1000 joins the Lastec range of commercial and golf course mowers known throughout the world for a premium quality of cut with independently flexing decks. Built in the USA and starting at $48,900 USD, the WZ1000 provides up to 8.73 acres/hour coverage to fit the wide area production needs of commercial landscapers, lawn care professionals, sports fields, and golf courses.

Featuring a massive 120” cutting width, five 25" flex decks, and zero turn maneuverability, the Lastec WZ1000 commercial zero turn mower cuts with the accuracy of five small push mowers at the speed and production of a zero turn wide area mower. The WZ1000 includes five independently flexing decks with up to 24° of total up/down motion for superior cut quality in even the most challenging contours and valleys.

3. The Toro Company Takes Additional Actions in Response to COVID-19 Pandemic

The Toro Company today announced additional proactive actions it is taking to mitigate anticipated impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on its business.

Richard M. Olson, The Toro Company’s chairman and chief executive officer said, “With the continued proliferation of COVID-19, we remain first and foremost focused on the health, safety and well-being of our employees, customers and communities. I am inspired by the resilience, collaboration and passion of our team as we work through the unpredictability of this pandemic. The Toro Company has strong underlying fundamentals and is in a solid financial position. We have a stable balance sheet and sufficient liquidity. However, like many other companies that are navigating the uncertainty of this pandemic, particularly as it relates to its duration and scope, we have experienced production and supply chain disruptions and reduced demand in certain of our businesses. As such, it is prudent for us to take additional proactive actions now to help mitigate anticipated impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our business and financial performance. The additional actions we are taking today will enable us to effectively manage through this challenging environment with agility and position us well for the recovery.”

4. Equipment Manufacturers Say COVID-19 Wiping Out Demand, Disrupting Supply Chains

Nine out of 10 U.S. equipment manufacturers say the COVID-19 pandemic has had a very negative impact on the economy while more than half believe it has had a very negative impact on the industry overall, according to results of a survey released today by the Assn. of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). In addition, eight out of 10 executives say the federal government should prioritize a significant investment in the nation’s infrastructure to help equipment manufacturers weather the crisis and help rebuild the economy.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on equipment manufacturers and the 2.8 million men and women of our industry,” said Dennis Slater, president of AEM. “Even before the current crisis, equipment manufacturers were facing challenging times as a result of the protracted trade war with China, the mounting infrastructure crisis, and a decline in commodity prices. The COVID-19 pandemic has managed to turn an already dire situation worse.”

5. 3 Things We Can Learn From Car Dealers

The automotive market is known for its innovation and, often, what happens in the car business will trickle down to the ag equipment business because of the many similarities between the two.

It’s certainly not true in all cases, but there are 3 things that our industry may be missing that car dealers have nailed and we might use to grow our sales. The best part is the cost of putting these measures in place will be negligible.

6. What if Walmart Started Selling Compact Tractors?

Another box store announced that it is selling tractors — this time, it’s Rural King. The company has started branding TYM tractors and began selling 10 models ranging from 19-55 horsepower at 7 pilot stores this spring, with plans to sell throughout its 100-store network.

According to the company: “Prices range from $8,299 for the 19HP RK19 Hydrostatic sub-compact to $26,799 for the 55HP, Turbo-Charged RK55 Hydrostatic utility tractor with full HVAC cab.”

The pilot stores will have a dedicated tractor center with trained service teams. The company also promises a complete stock of replacement parts from its Waverly, Ohio, assembly facility within 2 days, along with financing, King Kutter attachments, etc. From the company’s website, here’s their stance on price: “Because we are buying directly from the tractor manufacturer, we can pass our savings along to you. You’ll see that we offer more power for a lower price than any of the other brands in this class. Our pricing also includes freight and assembly, elements that add to the price at most tractor dealers.”

7. Tractor Supply Provides Second Quarter 2020 Outlook

Tractor Supply Co. (NASDAQ: TSCO), the largest rural lifestyle retailer in the United States, today provided its financial outlook for the second quarter of 2020, along with the announcement of strategic investments in its Team Members and consumer-shopping experience.

“Over the past few months, Tractor Supply has remained focused on our Team Members, customers and communities. We have taken more than 100 actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with an emphasis on the health and safety of our Team Members and customers, while enhancing our capabilities to better serve the essential needs of our customers. Our outlook for record-breaking sales and earnings in the second quarter demonstrates the potential for Tractor Supply to emerge stronger than before as we continue to gain market share and build our business for the future,” said Hal Lawton, Tractor Supply’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

“Today, we have a unique opportunity to grow our business as we roll out new technology and services while capitalizing on our product categories and convenient shopping format. Continuing to build our relationships across our customer base is a top priority for us as we are growing share with existing and new customers, while also reengaging lapsed customers. The investments we are making in our Team Members and new technology and services are done with a commitment to disciplined financial returns and profitable growth as we look for these strategic investments to be offset over time by increased sales, improved gross margin opportunities and cost savings in other areas.”

8. What Should be Next for the Dixie Chopper Brand?

The zero-turn mower line that started in Art Evans’ barn near Greencastle, Ind., in 1980, grew to a network of 300 dealers, claimed the title of world’s fastest lawn mower, and was purchased by Jacobsen/Textron in 2014, came to an end in early December due to “market pressure and a change in the economic circumstances of the business,” according to a memo to dealers.

The news surprised many. Early speculation on the employee layoffs at the Coatesville, Ind., manufacturing facility was that Textron would build the mowers elsewhere. Dealers were among those caught by surprise as news about production ceasing made its way through the network.

One dealer is still hopeful they will produce the mowers at another one of Textron’s facilities — or the company will sell the brand. “We’ve been a Dixie Chopper dealer for 10 years. We’re staying positive and will keep selling the units we have,” he says.

9. Briggs & Stratton Hires Restructuring Adviser

Briggs & Stratton Corp. has hired Houlihan Lokey Inc. as restructuring advisers to help rework debt that will begin coming due this year, reports Bloomberg, ahead of a June 15 interest payment on unsecured bonds that mature in December.

Bloomberg reports that some holders of these notes have organized and are working with Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Imperial Capital LLC to advise them in talks with the company.

According to company filings, Briggs & Stratton’s $195 million of unsecured bonds mature in December, and if any of them remain outstanding on Sept. 15, the company’s 2024 revolving credit line would need to be repaid immediately. The manufacturer had borrowed $402 million on the credit line as of March 29, reports Bloomberg.

10. Briggs & Stratton Reports Net Sales Drop 18% in 3Q20

"As we work through these uncertain times, I want to acknowledge the exemplary efforts of our entire team to ensure the health and safety of our communities, customers, business partners and ourselves," said Briggs & Stratton chairman, president and chief executive officer Todd J. Teske.  "I could not be prouder of our employees' dedication and responsiveness to our customers' needs as we face these challenging times head on."

Teske continued, "Our third quarter performance reflects the unexpected and rapid impact this pandemic has had across the global economy. Our OEM customers and channel partners quickly decreased business activity in the latter half of March to protect workers and public health and safety, which impacted our anticipated shipments. Combined with actions we are taking as part of our repositioning plan, we are aggressively working to reduce costs, better manage working capital, and prioritize cash generation. These actions resulted in the reduction of inventories by $85 million during the quarter.  Lastly, we recently amended our credit agreement to enhance our liquidity to better navigate the economic impact of the pandemic as we continue our work to secure long-term capital for the business."