The Next Generation of Ag Techies
Since establishing its precision farming department nearly 10 years ago, Bane-Welker has seen it grow substantially. “We were the first in the area to launch cellular-based RTK corrections,” says Justin McKain, precision farming specialist at the dealership’s Terre Haute, Indiana, location. “Over time, we have grown the system to cover over 80% of Indiana.”
Through the years, its product line has also expanded. Today, offerings include not only Case IH AFS but also Trimble, Ag Leader, Precision Planting, Raven, and Capstan technologies. Ensuring its 13 locations are staffed with enough techies to deploy and maintain these systems, McKain relates, has always been difficult. Because technology continues to change and advance, the desired skills are also changing, which complicates the matter further.
In the past, the dealership sought out candidates who could effectively sell, service, and install OEM and aftermarket systems. “As we look down the road, we may split those roles and seek one candidate to sell and another to service,” he says. “Telematics, remote service, and data-management service demands are also rising. In the future, we may hire specifically for those roles.”
developing a plan
According to a 2014 survey conducted by Ivy Tech Community College, the need for individuals to repair precision ag equipment and intelligently converse about it is felt statewide. Sent to 362 Indiana implement dealers and contract service providers, the results reveal that 90% currently employ three precision ag technicians each at their sites. Of those, 87% expect to hire two precision ag technicians over the next three to five years. That means employers project they’ll need to fill more than 3,000 positions by 2020.
Committed to training the next generation of ag techies, Ivy Tech’s Terre Haute campus recently launched a program in which students can earn a technical certificate as a precision ag specialist, precision ag technician, or an equipment service technician. Each is a 12-month program. An associate of applied science degree in precision agriculture equipment technology can also be earned; it takes a two-year commitment.
As a supplier of curriculum for the GIS classes at Ivy Tech, Trimble realized nearly 10 years ago that putting resources into building a program would generate interest in the industry at a younger age. “One factor to improving the industry and adoption is education,” says Clint Dotterer, Director of Strategy with Trimble Ag Business Solutions. “It also educates others who did not come from an ag background and helps shrink the gap between the consumer and the farmer.”
An Ivy Tech alumnus, McKain, too, believes collaboration between industry and college programs is vital to continued growth and adoption of precision ag technologies. “Graduates are better prepared to hit the ground running,” he notes.
the next ag techie
It’s a career that peaked the interest of Nathan Tague as a junior in high school. “I grew up in a small farming community in Illinois but not on a farm,” he says. “I’d planned to become an engineer. When I began working on a farm, it made me realize how much technology there is on the farm. It also made me realize I wanted to be the person who helped farmers with their technology needs.”
In December 2018, he graduated from Ivy Tech with a precision ag specialist and a precision ag technician certificate.
“To feed a growing population, agriculture has to find ways to maximize production with limited resources,” says Darin Kohlmeyer, program chair, precision agriculture equipment technology at Ivy Tech. “We are trying to get the next generation prepared to work with farmers in adopting and maintaining this technology to fulfill these needs.”