Integrated Solutions Manager,
Riesterer & Schnell, Pulaski Wis.
Ag Technology Instructor,
Fox Valley Technical College, Appleton, Wis.
Pictured Above: Frequent collaborators on precision tech training, Joe Sinkula (left) and Zach Ward (right) shared a comfort zone discussing the urgent and long-term needs to prepare specialists, from actually reading operator manuals to having a background in computers.
Joe Sinkula: I’ve found the biggest challenge in training newcomers is getting guys to actually read a book. The people I’ve hired, I could give a book to, put them in a tractor, and they would figure it out. But we’re struggling on the technician side with getting enough of those people.
Zach Ward: I completely agree. In one class I instruct, all they do is get a book and box of tools for installation. Here’s your scenario — set it up and go. They always hate it and actually start talking to other faculty that I’m not guiding them correctly. But they have the manual and answers to the questions. Where’s that troubleshooting guide that’s attached to everything you buy?
Sinkula: Yeah. We still use the equipment, and I’ve probably sold 70-plus used displays, and they never have operator manuals with them because they’re all online. On sale 71, somebody’s finally asked for the operator’s manual.
Ward: That explains why I search for an hour, trying a find a website or trying to find a manual.
Sinkula: One time, I put a $20 bill in a customer’s operators manual, right on the page I knew he was going to call about. Then when I went out there and opened the manual, I took the $20 out, put it in my wallet, showed him the page and walked him through it. He didn’t have a whole lot to say to me. You could do that with your students, and tell them, who knows, there might be some cash in it for them.
Ward: That’s a good one. What are some other issues you’ve encountered with training technicians?
Sinkula: Whenever we onboard somebody, the issue isn’t necessarily teaching them to create a guidance line, but more so on the critical thinking side of things and getting them to dig in more.
Ward: Simulations have been effective on our end for that critical thinking aspect. I’ve conducted planter-build scenarios where they have different farmers looking for a new planter, each with particular needs. Students actually have to go on the John Deere site, price it out and build it with all of the options considered. Then they calculate the return on investment and articulate why the purchase would be justified.
I gave them a worksheet to do with it and I just left a bunch of blank lines. They actually looked at me and said, “What do you want us to put in here?” I said. “Notes on what you’re reading.” I wish I was joking, but they were confused by the fact that I wanted them to go beyond just answering a question.
Sinkula: Another concept that’s been interesting to see is what graduates thought precision farming was coming into it. I don’t want to criticize any of the schools, but you see a lot of stuff online that implies that precision ag is just setting up a finger meter on a test stand, which drives me nuts.
Ward: That’s the furthest from precision ag in my mind.
Sinkula: Do you see a correlation between general computer knowledge and how fast your students pick up on precision ag?
Ward: I’d say there’s definitely a correlation. The better they are with computers, the quicker they are figuring out the software operating system. Not necessarily the hardware, though. When it actually comes to installation and wiring, the more mechanically minded they are, the better.
Sinkula: We’ve found that if guys know computers, they don’t even need to know agriculture right off the bat. They’ll pick up precision ag concepts pretty quickly.
Ward: What’s been nice, on the data management side especially, is all of the technology that’s now at our disposal.
Sinkula: The biggest transition compared to 5 years ago is how guys go about getting their planter ready and driving straight. I get calls all the time from customers on how to build setup files so their agronomist gets them in real time. I’m fine getting your planter going straight because you probably bought something from me, but I’ve got the free software. How much time should I dedicate enabling you to buy something more efficiently from somebody else? Where’s my revenue generation on that? We’ve gone with the support agreements, but it comes down to having the right people in place. I need my technicians to make a planter go straight, but now I need the integrated solutions consultants, which brings us full circle.
Ward: Since younger agronomists grew up around computers and software, they understand how much more beneficial it can be to them and how much faster they can make decisions. There’s nothing worse than getting called after the crop is up, asking, “What happened here?” Getting that good documentation right away now can save time in the future, and hopefully fix the issues for next season.