What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago, farmers were shrugging their shoulders at auto-steering systems, telling their neighbors down at the coffee shop that they "knew how to drive in a straight line."

Now, when the system is unavailable for whatever reason, equipment is parked until the farm equipment dealership that sold them the unit can send out a tech. In many cases machines are idled not because farmers have forgotten how to drive straight, but the design of the equipment itself makes going "off the grid" impossible. Row markers on corn planters are becoming things of the past.

In becoming so dependant on technology, farmers are even more dependant on support. Five years ago, fertilizer dealerships may have had precision farming specialists on hand, but most farm equipment dealerships could handle precision farming support through their parts and service department. When the precision farming calls increased and the problems became more complex — taking the service department away from more traditional mechanical or hydraulic problems — the role of the precision farming technician was born.

At first there was no clear description for this new position. Dealers really didn't know what the position was going to look like as it evolved. They saw the growth potential, and knew they needed to be ready to support it.

The ideal candidate for this position was also changing. Sales experience and mechanical aptitude was still valuable, but finding a candidate who was good with the technology as well as a computer and who also understood the crop aspect of the business was a challenge. Dealers soon found they needed someone who could relate to the farmer and who understood what he was trying to accomplish with yield monitors and other precision farming technology.

Precision farming has already altered the agriculture industry. For dealerships, it's caused a significant shift in what they're looking for on incoming resumes, as well. Many dealers have realized who they're looking for is an agronomist, someone with the plant knowledge to draw the connection between what the yield monitor was revealing about the field and what prescriptions needed to be written to counteract any problems. If that person has a good aptitude for customer service, the farm equipment dealership part of the business can be taught on the job.