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lbedord
Contributor

Next generation of precision ag technicians

I've heard a few concerns at a couple of farmer meetings that the next generation of precision ag technicians won't be there to install hardware and software and trouble shoot problems that might come up in the field. When it seems as if a farmer's window of opportunity to get crop in and out of the field is increasingly shrinking, you can't afford to be down for long. What are others hearing out there about qualified technicians in the field and the shortage of technicians we might be seeing in the next five years? Are you concerned? Should you be concerned?

 

Thanks!

 

Laurie Potter

Deputy Machinery Editor

Successful Farming

10 Replies
farmandfire
Veteran Contributor

Re: Next generation of precision ag technicians

I have just experienced this first hand. Auto steer went out of wack and called our local tech from the dealership to come out and help. Couldn't that day, but he said he could the next at 9:00 in the morning. 10:30 came around and no tech. called and he said that he had been busy with other things and hadn't left the shop yet. He stated he couldn't be here for a couple of hours. called him back and said to forget it. we planted by sight for the last 70 acres due to the fact that we broke one of our planter markers. Seems like this is becoming the norm. needless to say it came out of the tractor and is going back to the dealer. going to a specialty dealer that deals in only GPS technologies with more than one tech for five stores.

Jim Meade / Iowa City
Senior Advisor

Re: Next generation of precision ag technicians

So far, my simple precision ag needs have been taken care of by the technician who installed the gear and was able to do it over the phone.  I never had to stop operation to wait for a tech.

I suspect this will change as we get more and more reliant.  During planting and a few other times we'll be at great dependence on a few highly skilled people, or we'll develop a swap out system where the farmer can replace a component easily and get the system back working.  Farmers will not be tolerant of lack of technical support very long.

Where will the technicians reside?  At the dealership?  At the input supplier?  Independent or free-lance?

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LINKn8r
Frequent Reader

Re: Next generation of precision ag technicians

Interesting topic.  For me personally, I think this is a direction I want to go - being the technician to go out and fix this stuff.  I am very curious to see where this thread will go.  At some point, the farmers will need to embrace this sort of technology, but I can certainly appreciate the unaccepctance of downtime.  Planting and harvesting are the two busiest times of year and to sit idle waiting on a tech should be avoided at all costs.

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LASERGPS
Reader

Re: Next generation of precision ag technicians

I'm one of these sales, support, installer and troubleshooter type guys you ask about and I'm nearly 50. My offsider is over 50. I'll never be able to train anyone young and I'd suggest the reasons I have would apply to most businesses that deal with this technology. I believe that there will NEVER be practical field trained techs into the future.

 

I come from the old school (ex Spectra Physics-Precision dealer trained) and in those days we had a product that was backed by the company in a very real and practical way. We had a profit margin that allowed us to support the product. We had direct feedback with product development and our imput was sometimes pivotal in new product direction. We had single dealers located in designated areas and every customer knew that they'd get support when they bought from us.

 

All that turned to crap the moment SP was bought out (taken over if you like) by that conglomerate called Trimble. Now I am a Trimble reseller things are very, very different. I talk to other guys who deal with other products and they have the same issues we now have. Basically, all the product manufacturers are now bottom line, profit driven, aiming for market exposure saturation with nearly anyone promising to make their manufacturer a fortune able to hung out a shingle and absolutely no room or allowance is made for product support. It is all about sales numbers and being the market leader with the lions share of the business. This approach to business has only one real end result - the end of the personal approach to customer support.

 

Businesses like mine simply can't afford to train people as there is no margin in this business for specialists like us any more. These big manufacturing companies would not know how to support a coal face customer in a real world situation and they give the dealer a margin that reflects that lack of understanding. We now have local areas where there are 5 businesses selling exactly the same product and everyone is cutting their margins to get a deal.

 

Ask why you have trouble getting support. I'll tell you why.  SOME OF US WHO SPECIALISE IN GPS AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGY DON'T MAKE ENOUGH MARGIN TO PAY FOR OR EVEN TRAIN NEW GUYS IN THE INDUSTRY. SOME OF US DON'T MAKE ENOUGH PROFIT TO INVEST IN CUSTOMER SUPPORT. WE ARE MOSTLY TRYING TO SURVIVE IN THIS ENVIRONMENT COMPETEING AGAINST THE BIG TRACTOR MANUFACTURERS WHO BASICALLY GIVE THIS STUFF AWAY IN TRACTOR DEALS.

 

I love this job but we are losing the battle. A very few distributors who retail the product themselves do very well as they have a margin that gives them a decent profit. The little blokes like me who have 25 years in the industry will have to walk away from it one day unfortunately.................................

LINKn8r
Frequent Reader

Re: Next generation of precision ag technicians

LaserGPS:

How does one go about getting to be a service tech for this type of stuff?  I'm sure going through the implement dealer might be one way.  I was thinking more on the lines of becoming an independent technician that could service all brands of equipment.  It might be nice to strike a deal with the dealers to provide in-field support - something I presume is lacking.

 

What kind of test/diagnostic equipment do you use?  Could a guy make it without being employed by Trimble, for example?  I can get you my private email if you would prefer to converse that way.

 

Thanks much.

 

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lbedord
Contributor

Re: Next generation of precision ag technicians

LINKn8r,

 

I'm curious to find out how you made out with this? Were you able to connect with someone who could point you in the direction of becoming a precision ag service tech? If not, let me know as I have a couple of options for you.

 

Laurie Bedord

Deputy Machinery Editor

laurie.bedord@meredith.com

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RichardMan
Friend

Re: Next generation of precision ag technicians

Agreed with your title of thread. Definitely next generation have to be very professional and inovated, also into the agriculture. We will not productive without new technologies and inovations.

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RCJC
Friend

Re: Next generation of precision ag technicians

Back in the mid-90s (when precision ag was in its infancy) I had a gig on the side writing a column called Target Farming for Grainews here in Canada. My training and experience is in electronics and instrumentation and I grew up on a farm so I had some related background . The column I wrote was about electronics in agriculture and when precision ag kicked off I got the assignment to write about it in my column. One thing led to another and I ended up writing a book on precision ag technologies. The book sold fairly well for about a year until the focus started shifting toward the agronomics side of the question (an area I didn't have much expertise in).

 

My main job prior to, and at that time, was teaching electronics and instrumentation (at colleges in Alberta and Saskatchewan). I was asked to create some training courses for a couple of colleges. I also did a study on whether creating training opportunities for precision ag techs would be feasible. This involved focus groups-- talking to industry stakeholders, producers, etc in the three prairie provinces. In the end we came to the conclusion that there would be demand for college level training in precision ag technologies. Later I wrote precision ag courses for a college in Brandon, and at the college where I taught in Saskatoon we had serious talks about creating an "ag electronics technician" stream in the electronics program.

 

Unfortunately it seemed like a lot of that kind of faded away. (Bureaucracies aren't great at responding quickly to the real world.) After a while I found myself drawn into other areas, eventually shifting into technical writing (training materials and manuals for ag electronics manufacturers as well as other industries).

 

In the last year I have found myself out in the field on behalf of one of my ag electronics manufacturing clients, not only gathering information for updates to user manuals, but helping my client's customer with technical problems in getting the electronics working. I guess the bottom line from my perspective is that I can see the need for precision ag technicians who can provide on-site service, but it is an expensive proposition. And an independent service tech can be at a real disadvantage. These days you need factory training, support and parts to provide efficient/effective service, and not all manufacturers are inclined to cooperate with independents. On the other side of the coin, techs who work for a specific manufacturers often don't get enough knowledge of other systems that their equipment has to connect to. For example, despite all the hype about ISOBUS enabling everybody to interconnect, there still appears to be problems with users knowing how to configure the software so that systems from different manufacturers can work together.

 

Hope this adds something useful to the discussion...

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Mike popham
Member

Re: Next generation of precision ag technicians

Spoiler
 

There definitely is going to be a need for more. JD is jacking their phone support from $100 to $300 for 2012 and in 2014 or 2015 there will no longer be an 1-800 tech support line to call. JD feels that the dearler that sold the equipment should be the one that stands the expense of hiring and training extra personel for what will be seasonal work. IF you think you have to wait now, what do you expect will happen during planting/harvest with a dealership thats not open at 9pm or 5am ? Apparently JD management feels that the people that buy their products only work the same hours that they do.

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