During a recent trip through Illinois — to include a couple of farm equipment dealer visits — one precision farming specialist offered a candid prediction about how intertwined technology and machinery will become in the near future.

“In five years, if you are not selling precision equipment, you may not be selling iron either,” he says.

This forecast may be a bit premature, but nonetheless, it isn’t as farfetched as it was three years ago. The growing demand for technology from customers is prompting dealers to invest in precision farming products and train precision personnel at a rapid pace.

The results of the annual Dealer Business Trends & Outlook survey, conducted by Farm Equipment editors and published in the October/November issue, support this trend.

According to the survey of nearly 200 farm equipment dealers in the U.S. and Canada, respondents plan to increase hiring of specialized staff to service advanced technology products.

The position of “precision farming specialist” was added to the survey last year and 19.9% of dealers indicated they were looking for people to fill this increasingly important role in 2012. This jumped to 28% for 2013 and should continue to increase as more dealers break into the precision farming arena, or expand current operations.

One dealership in Illinois hired a full-time precision farming specialist less than two years ago to service four locations and is struggling to keep up with demand.

“Sooner, rather than later, we’ll need a precision guy in every store,” says one of the dealership’s salesmen.

Customer demand is certainly fueling the need to expand precision farming departments, but dealers are also realizing the profitability of the technology.

Looking at 20 different ag equipment categories, including tractors and combines, the Farm Equipment survey reveals that North American dealers see their best potential for increasing 2013 revenues in GPS and precision farming products and systems. Overall, GPS/precision farming ranked first among the 20 categories with a score of 96.4%.

Despite lingering compatibility issues with competing brands of precision equipment — the topic of the Precision Farming Dealer Q&A in this issue — dealers appear confident that is only a temporary challenge.

More are willing to carry diverse product lines and spend the time learning about each one to offer comprehensive service to customers.

Growing pains are inevitably a part of the process, but often worth it to get a precision farming foothold in a territory. Service and support of precision farming technology may prove to be a gateway to longstanding customer loyalty.

Yet another prediction offered by a salesman during a recent dealer visit was that utilization of precision technology will play a major role in determining who manages farms in the future.

“When farm owners look for operators to take over their land,” he says, “they’ll want people who have proven they can be productive, and those will be people who have made the most of precision technology.”