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With the birth of new technologies comes the need for technicians who not only install the hardware and software but also troubleshoot problems as they arise.
Farmers are legitimately concerned that as precision ag technology continues to evolve, there won’t be enough qualified technicians in this field to help resolve issues, especially during that critical window of opportunity.
“Customer support is what makes or breaks this industry, and that’s where a lot of people have questions,” says Troy McKown, a dealer for Precision Ag Solutions, located in Aberdeen, South Dakota. The company handles Trimble, Ag Leader, Precision Planting, and Orthman equipment. “Growers want to know that if they buy this technology, it will work. And if it doesn’t work, they want to know how they’ll get it to work,” McKown says.
While a lot of colleges offer degrees in agriculture, many don’t offer enough of a focus on precision farming. But there’s at least one college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that’s keenly aware of the need for qualified, competent technicians.
“The goal of the Kirkwood Community College curriculum is to provide the next generation of technicians and precision ag experts who can help farmers install precision ag equipment and troubleshoot problems,” says Terry Brase, associate professor for the college’s agricultural geospatial technology program.
Brase and his colleagues at Kirkwood have built the Agriculture Geospatial Technology program, a two-year program for students interested in a career in precision farming. Once complete, students receive an associate of applied science degree. Courses include everything from computer hardware basics, networking basics, agricultural sales, digital imagery, precision ag hardware, and precision ag software.
“The Precision Ag Hardware class is very much hands-on, installing and using precision ag equipment. I want the students coming out of the class understanding electronics and how a variety of hardware works,” Brase says.
A recent project involved installing a yield monitor in a wheeled cart (pictured). A team of students collected and purchased the parts for the project. By putting the system together themselves, the students get a detailed look at the connections and how a yield monitor actually works.
Bringing Precision Ag To The Farm And Field
Growing up on a farm in western Iowa, Kyle Conover knew he liked working with computers. But he wasn’t quite sure how to turn that interest into a career and at the same time be a benefit to his family’s farm. But as he finishes his first year at Kirkwood Community College, he now knows where he can put his talent to use.
“I like the computer part of precision ag, especially making yield maps. I want to find a job in precision ag and return to the farm,” Conover says.
Conover and the other students enrolled in Kirkwood programs are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to the future of precision ag.
“There have been devices and systems that have not been successful because there hasn’t been strong enough support,” says Brase. “People have to support the technology. The program at Kirkwood is designed just for that purpose.”