The last couple of years have seen hiring in the precision department slow as dealerships have been more conservative with where and how they invest in personnel. More emphasis has been placed on retention and cross-training of existing staff, to provide more flexibility with customer service offerings and sales.

And precision hiring is forecast to dip for the third year in a row according to Ag Equipment Intelligence’s 2017 Dealer Business Outlook & Trends report. The report reveals that only 10.5% of U.S. dealers plan to add precision staff in the coming year, compared to 12% in 2016, 17.3% in 2015 and 23.5% in 2014.

Independent dealers are least optimistic according to the report, with none planning to add staff in 2017 and more than 16% anticipating a reduction or relocation of precision specialists — well ahead of the 4.6% projected this year.

Talking with independent precision farming dealers throughout the year, some have expressed concern about being able to retain talent during the economic downturn, leaving them stretched thin during peak seasons.

Heading into harvest, one precision dealership said it didn’t plan on bringing back seasonal specialists it had hired in spring — not due to a lack of need — but because the budget simply didn’t allow for it.

But one dealership’s loss, could be another’s gain. While retailers for John Deere, AGCO and Kubota all anticipate dips in 2017 precision hiring, according to the report, both Case IH and New Holland dealers forecast increases.

Some 13% of New Holland dealers project adding precision specialists in 2017, up from 5.9% this year. And 15.6% of Case IH dealers are also forecasting hiring growth in the coming year, compared to 11.8% in 2016.

It’s also worth noting that New Holland dealers have high hopes for precision sales in the coming year as well. According to the Outlook & Trends report, more than one third of New Holland dealers (34.4%) forecast precision sales growth of at least 2% in 2017, compared to just 18.5% this year.

Although still a few years away from commercial launch, both Case IH and New Holland unveiled conceptual autonomous vehicles at this year’s Farm Progress Show, which at the very least provided some industry buzz and could potentially translate to precision sales momentum into the coming year.