George LaCour, a grower in Louisiana, is one of many producers who struggle to find trained technicians promptly.
LaCour farms approximately 5,000 acres and every season he notices fewer and fewer trained technicians to properly diagnose and repair farm equipment, especially tractors.
“One tractor alone has three CPUs (central processing unit) and one monitor,” he said. “The DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) sensor is one of many that will automatically shut the tractor down and prevent it from running. A sensor malfunction probably occurs four to five times a year.”
LaCour described how extensive and unnecessary the downtime can be to get repairs completed, related to coordinating trained technicians and mechanics. Apps now alert farmers of issues and technology continues to advance, but a lack of training is making it harder for farmers to fix the equipment they paid hard-earned cash for.
Every tractor manufacturer is racing to be ahead with the latest technology while farmers face the issue of operating and troubleshooting it.
“Most of these tractors will email you alerts,” he said. “We get alerts ranging from low water level to oil pressure and more. Some of the codes will lock you out and require a technician to clear it.”
Bridging the gap
LaCour recently attended a technology conference, hosted by Kristine Strickland, chancellor at Fletcher Technical Community College, when he realized she was bridging the gap between the advanced technology available in tractors and the lack of technicians available to work on this equipment.
Fletcher Technical Community College has developed an Agriculture Technology Program with students and the working class in mind.
The program provides attendees with the opportunity to graduate with an associate of applied science degree. It is based on three semesters with 12 to 15 credit hours each semester.
Graduates learned how to properly diagnose and repair diesel-powered systems, hydraulic systems, and electrical systems throughout the agriculture industry. Students gain hands-on experience servicing small engines, learning advanced mapping systems, and completing repairs on equipment.
“We can send our workers to train alongside Case and John Deere technicians,” he said. “This opportunity helps alleviate the strain of waiting on a properly trained technician to arrive. Plus, it provides an option other than a full-blown four-year degree.”
LaCour said this started about four years ago when farmers began fighting for the right to repair. Only a few colleges, such as Delta Community and Fletcher Community College, have jumped in to fill the void.
“Previously we had to use a specific manufacturers technician to troubleshoot our tractors,” he said. “All we needed was the software and training to do it ourselves. Sometimes we would have to wait 48-72 hours for a technician to arrive.”
Right to repair
The right to repair (R2R) movement began as farmers across the U.S. realized any time an issue arose, a technician from the tractor manufacturer would have to come out to plug in a laptop and diagnose the problem or make repairs. The farmers were facing repercussions for fixing their own equipment instead of waiting.
The Postsecondary Education Agriculture Technology Study Commission has helped direct education efforts for farmers to have shorter, more focused training that can be completed in weeks instead of years.
“Farmers can send their employees to two-week to six-month training courses,” LaCour said. “These courses typically involve the people within the ag community and manufacturing companies.”
LaCour understands the importance of younger students receiving an early education in agriculture. The commission is working to enhance FFA and 4-H courses by developing online modules.
“After COVID, the industry realized the need for an avenue for continued education,” he said. “Schools are shifting to online courses that open up additional education routes.”
Awards and scholarships are available for students to help promote early education for those interested in the agriculture industry.
While technology in tractors and equipment continues to advance, the need for trained technicians has never been greater. Education and flexible learning options are needed to support the agriculture industry, according to LaCour. Training and education will help bridge the gap to ensure farmers can continue to successfully grow the food required.