In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
Should We Require Licenses to Operate Farm Equipment?
Oct 04, 2008
Technology in farm equipment, especially related to autosteer/GPS/yield mapping/swath control has reached the point where some people have great difficulty understanding and operating it.
I take that back---most of the new technologies are easy to operate once they're set up and functioning properly. Push a button, trip a switch, and the computers take over and all the operator has to do is sit and ride. What is challenging to understand is the calibration and set-up of the latest and greatest automated systems. Early autosteer systems needed only basic info about swath width and then it was good to go. The latest generation of autosteer systems can follow contours and compensate for equipment side-draft, but requires all sorts of calibration and programmed information about yaw, centerline, offsets, height of the GPS receiver off the ground, etc., etc. Once the correct info is entered, the systems work great...
Until something gets out of whack and the operator has to enter diagnostic mode and figure out what's wrong. Are all the sensors getting correct voltage? Are all the sensors returning correct signal voltage? Maybe the machine was moved to another farm or field, and the new farm/field data wasn't entered correctly. What if the yield mapping system is recording inaccurate moisture content of the grain--is it a software problem or a merely related to the clump of foxtail lodged in the moisture sensor? if the operator doesn't understand what to do, where to look, or how to check, the system is non-functional and useless.
Yes, that's one reason dealerships have mechanics and technical advisors: to help with technical questions and to fix mechanical problems. But there comes a point where it's not cost effective to call the dealership and pay a mechanic to come out every single time there's a calibration, programming or diagnostic problem on high tech equipment.
At a recent regional training meeting for tech advisors and mechanics, one mechanic commented, tongue-in-cheek, that there may come a time when customers will have to take an "technological operator's test" before being allowed to operate high-tech gizmos for farm equipment. In his words, "If they don't have the patience to figure out how to run it, or the ability to read the owner's manual to set it up or do basic diagnostics, then they're going to have to farm the old-fashioned way and steer their own equipment." It was a rude, rather snotty statement made in jest, but none of the folks in attendance laughed.