While the downturn in the ag equipment market has stalled sales of precision products for many dealers, that hasn’t diminished the need for qualified specialists to service technology.

But just how aggressively will dealers seek to expand their precision personnel in the next year? Not nearly at the same level as in years’ past, according to Ag Equipment Intelligence’s 2016 Dealer Business Outlook & Trends report.

Only 13% of North American respondents to the survey say they are looking to add precision staff in the coming year, compared to 19.6% last year and 23% two years ago. The outlook is slightly less optimistic for U.S. dealers, with 12% projecting additional precision hires in 2016, compared to 17.3% a year earlier and 23.5% two years ago.

Canadian dealers are also planning to dramatically scale back precision hiring in the coming year, with 19.3% expecting to add employees, compared to 35.3% the previous year.

While the percentages speak to a declining demand for specialists, another contributing factor could be a dearth of talent. Talking with precision managers during the last year, several have also said they’ve lost productive employees to non-ag industries or seen them launch their own niche precision consulting companies.

“I don’t think it’s so much that there’s not a need for specialists, but more so that not as many dealers are looking for talent,” says one precision manager in the Midwest. “Right now, it’s harder for dealers to make an investment in a new specialist if they don’t have agood sense that the person will be there in a year.”

The most recent Precision Farming Dealer online poll asked dealers to identify their most pressing precision need and the results support an ongoing demand for specialists. More than half (53%) identified additional specialists as their greatest need to grow precision business. An additional 16% cited additional precision salespeople as their greatest need, while 18% said salespeople, specialists and in-house agronomists are critical to expanding business.

Only 11% said “none of the above” were pressing needs. Perhaps these dealers are sufficiently stocked with precision talent? It’s possible, but these dealers may also be weathering the current market and doing their best to hold onto the current team of technology experts — which is increasingly easier said that done.