A little more than a month into my role as technology editor for Farm Equipment and No-Till Farmer, I am doing my best impression of a sponge, soaking up as much precision knowledge as my brain can hold.
Last week, I had the opportunity to spend several days in Iowa logging educational hours with dealers, manufacturers and farmers who are imbedded in precision technology.
While the experience allowed me to get my hands dirty — literally — with some of the tools being used in the field, I also gained some insight into how dealers expand their precision knowledge base.
Nobody suddenly wakes up one morning an expert in precision farming, is what one ag specialist with Brokaw Supply, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, told me during the dealership’s Precision Ag Day.
It’s hard work and given that technology is constantly evolving, school is constantly in session.
A combination of textbook training, hands-on experience and trial and error were the most common responses I heard when I asked what it takes to get a foothold successfully selling precision technology.
Ag Leader Technology in Ames, Iowa, opened a precision training academy in 2009 and offers a three-tiered precision program aimed at precision dealers. The education starts with a classroom course on display monitors and evolves into students having to negotiate simulated technology crisis that growers encounter in the field.
As Ag Leader’s training coordinator Andy Boyle told me during the visit, the philosophy of the program is “selling through training.” The goal is to equip dealers with enough understanding about how the equipment works, so they can successfully sell it against a competitor.
So far, the program has had about 2,000 participants, which indicates a willingness to invest in the education to get a handle on precision farming technology.
One ag technology specialist enrolled in level one of the Ag Leader program told me that his goal with the training is to get a competitive edge and improve customer satisfaction.
Being a precision specialist who “over-promises and under-delivers” isn’t a situation he wanted to put himself or his dealership in because of a lack of education.
If done right, adding that precision expertise can benefit the bottom line for established dealers and certainly provides for better service to customers.
For dealerships looking to expand their precision departments — and this is certainly is a trend — field experience is a trait that at least one precision ag sales manager in Iowa says he emphasizes when looking for new hires, beyond classroom training.
While there are a growing number of aspiring precision technicians with book smarts, intangibles like personality, dedication and the ability to learn from mistakes are attractive attributes for potential employers.
It’s clear that not everyone can or wants to embrace the precision technology. Boyle says that he’s seen plenty of dealers drop out of the Ag Leader program for a variety of reasons.
For the ag specialist I spoke with at Brokaw, he is basically on-call, spends endless hours on the road and says he was “thrown to the wolves” when he started.
But he’s passionate about what he does. A combination of schooling, experience and mentoring, gives him confidence to walk on most any customer’s farm and solve their precision technology problem.
That education didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t easy, but it’s pretty clear that for those willing to put in the time and effort, they will realize the benefits.