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Techies of the future

With the birth of new
technologies comes the need for technicians who not only install the hardware
and software but also troubleshoot problems as they arise.

Farmers are legitimately
concerned that as precision ag technology continues to evolve, there won’t be
enough qualified technicians in this field to help resolve issues, especially during
that critical window of opportunity.

“Customer support is what
makes or breaks this industry, and that’s where a lot of people have
questions,” says Troy McKown, a dealer for Precision Ag Solutions, located in
Aberdeen, South Dakota. The company handles Trimble, Ag Leader, Precision
Planting, and Orthman equipment. “Growers want to know that if they buy this
technology, it will work. And if it doesn’t work, they want to know how they’ll
get it to work,” McKown says.

While a lot of colleges
offer degrees in agriculture, many don’t offer enough of a focus on precision
farming. But there’s at least one college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that’s keenly
aware of the need for qualified, competent technicians.

“The goal of the Kirkwood
Community College curriculum is to provide the next generation of technicians
and precision ag experts who can help farmers install precision ag equipment
and troubleshoot problems,” says Terry Brase, associate professor for the
college’s agricultural geospatial technology program.

Brase and his colleagues at
Kirkwood have built the Agriculture Geospatial Technology program, a two-year
program for students interested in a career in precision farming. Once
complete, students receive an associate of applied science degree. Courses include
everything from computer hardware basics, networking basics, agricultural
sales, digital imagery, precision ag hardware, and precision ag software.

“The Precision Ag Hardware
class is very much hands-on, installing and using precision ag equipment. I want
the students coming out of the class understanding electronics and how a
variety of hardware works,” Brase says.  

A recent project involved
installing a yield monitor in a wheeled cart (pictured). A team of students
collected and purchased the parts for the project. By putting the system
together themselves, the students get a detailed look at the connections and
how a yield monitor actually works.

Bringing Precision Ag To The
Farm And Field

Growing up on a farm in
western Iowa, Kyle Conover knew he liked working with computers. But he wasn’t
quite sure how to turn that interest into a career and at the same time be a
benefit to his family’s farm. But as he finishes his first year at Kirkwood
Community College, he now knows where he can put his talent to use.

“I like the computer part of
precision ag, especially making yield maps. I want to find a job in precision
ag and return to the farm,” Conover says.

Conover and the other
students enrolled in Kirkwood programs are an important piece of the puzzle
when it comes to the future of precision ag.

“There have been devices and
systems that have not been successful because there hasn’t been strong enough
support,” says Brase. “People have to support the technology. The program at
Kirkwood is designed just for that purpose.”  

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