School Subjects: Mathematics; Technical/shop
Personal Skills: Mechanical/manipulative; Technical/scientific
Work Environment: Indoors & outdoors; Primarily multiple locations
Minimum Education Level: Some postsecondary training
Wage or Salary Range: $17,540 to $26,354 to $38,100+
Certification or Licensing: None available
Future growth: More slowly than the average technician's job
O*NET: 45-2091.00, 49-304 1.00
Agricultural equipment technicians work with modern farm machinery. They assemble, adjust, operate, maintain, modify, test, & even help design it. This machinery includes automatic animal feeding systems; milking machine systems; & tilling, planting, harvesting, irrigating, drying, & handling equipment. Agricultural equipment technicians work on farms or for agricultural machinery manufacturers or dealer ships. They often supervise skilled mechanics & other workers who keep machines & systems operating at maximum efficiency. Approximately 41,000 agricultural equipment technicians are employed in the United States.
The history of farming equipment stretches back to the first prehistoric agricultural workers developed the sickle. In the Middle Ages, the horse-drawn plow greatly increased farm production, & in the early 1700s, Jethro Tull designed & built the first mechanical seed planter, further increasing production. The industrial revolution brought advances in the design & use of specialized machinery for strenuous & repetitive work. The industrial revolution had a great impact on the agricultural industry, beginning in 1831 with Cyrus McCormick’s invention of the reaper.
In the first half of the 20th century, governmental experiment stations developed high-yielding, standardized varieties of farm crops. This, combined with the establishment of agricultural equipment-producing companies, caused a boom in the production of farm machinery. In the late 1930s, the abundance of inexpensive petroleum spurred the development of gasoline- & diesel-run farm machinery. During the early 1940s, the resulting explosion in complex & powerful farm machinery multiplied production & replaced most of the horses & mules used on farms in the United States.
Modern farming is heavily dependent on very complex & expensive machinery. Highly trained & skilled technicians & farm mechanics are therefore required to install, operate, maintain, & modify this machinery, thereby ensuring the nation’s farm productivity. Recent developments in agricultural mechanization & automation make the career of agricultural equipment technicians both challenging & rewarding. Sophisticated machines are being used to plant, cultivate, harvest, & process food; to contour, drain, & renovate land; & to clear land & harvest forest products in the process. Qualified agricultural equipment technicians are needed not only to service & sell this equipment, but also to manage it on the farm.
Farming has increasingly become a highly competitive, big business. A successful farmer may have hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars invested in land & machinery. For this investment to pay off, it's vital to keep the machinery in excellent operating condition. Prompt & reliable service from the farm equipment manufacturer & dealer is necessary for the success of both farmer & dealer. Interruptions or delays because of poor service are costly for everyone involved. To provide good service, manufacturers & dealers need technicians & specialists who possess agricultural & engineering knowledge in addition to technical skills.
Agricultural equipment technicians work in a wide variety of jobs both on & off the farm. In general, most agricultural equipment technicians find employment in one of three areas: equipment manufacturing, equipment sales & service, & on-farm equipment management.
Equipment manufacturing technicians are involved primarily with the design & testing of agricultural equipment such as farm machinery; irrigation, power, & electrification systems; soil & water conservation equipment; & agricultural harvesting & processing equipment. There are two kinds of technicians working in this field: agricultural engineering technicians & agricultural equipment test technicians.
Agricultural engineering technicians work under the supervision of design engineers. They prepare original layouts & complete detailed drawings of agricultural equipment. They also review plans, diagrams, & blueprints to ensure that new products comply with company standards & design specifications. In order to do this they must use their knowledge of biological, engineering, & design principles. They also must keep current on all of the new equipment & materials being developed for the industry to make sure the machines run at their highest capacity.
Agricultural equipment test technicians test & evaluate the performance of agricultural machinery & equipment. In particular, they make sure the equipment conforms with operating requirements, such as horsepower, resistance to vibration, & strength & hard ness of parts. They test equipment under actual field conditions on company-operated research farms & under more controlled conditions. They work with test equipment & recording instruments such as bend-fatigue machines, dynamometers, strength testers, hard ness meters, analytical balances, & electronic recorders.
Test technicians are also trained in methods of recording the data gathered during these tests. They compute values such as horsepower & tensile strength using algebraic formulas & report their findings using graphs, tables, & sketches.
After the design & testing phases are complete, other agricultural equipment technicians work with engineers to perform any necessary adjustments in the equipment design. By performing these functions under the general supervision of the design engineer, technicians do the engineers’ “detective work” so the engineers can devote more time to research & development.
Large agricultural machinery companies may employ agricultural equipment technicians to supervise production, assembly, & plant operations.
Most manufacturers market their products through regional sales organizations to individual dealers. Technicians may serve as sales representatives of regional sales offices, where they are assigned a number of dealers in a given territory & sell agricultural equipment directly to them. They may also conduct sales-training programs for the dealers to help them become more effective salespeople.
These technicians are also qualified to work in sales positions within dealerships, either as equipment sales workers or parts clerks. They are required to perform equipment demonstrations for customers. They also appraise the value of used equipment for trade-in allowances. Technicians in these positions may advance to sales or parts manager positions.
Some technicians involved in sales become systems specialists, who work for equipment dealerships, assisting farmers in the planning & installation of various kinds of mechanized systems, such as irrigation or materials-handling systems, grain bins, or drying systems.
In the service area, technicians may work as field service representatives, forming a liaison between the companies they represent & the dealers. They assist the dealers in product warranty work, diagnose service problems, & give seminars or workshops on new service information & techniques. These types of service technicians may begin their careers as specialists in certain kinds of repairs. Hydraulic specialists, for instance, maintain & repair the component parts of hydraulic systems in tractors & other agricultural machines. Diesel specialists rebuild, calibrate, & test diesel pumps, injectors, & other diesel engine components.
Many service technicians work as service managers or parts department managers. Service managers assign duties to the repair workers, diagnose machinery problems, estimate repair costs for customers, & manage the repair shop.
Parts department managers in equipment dealerships maintain inventories of all the parts that may be requested either by customers or by the service departments of the dealership. They deal directly with customers, parts suppliers, & dealership managers & must have good sales & purchasing skills. They also must be effective business managers.
Technicians working on the farm have various responsibilities, the most important of which is keeping machinery in top working condition during the growing season. During off-season periods they may overhaul or modify equipment or simply keep the machinery in good working order for the next season.
Some technicians find employment as on-farm machinery managers, usually working on large farms servicing or supervising the servicing of all automated equipment. They also monitor the field operation of all machines & keep complete records of costs, utilization, & repair procedures relating to the maintenance of each piece of mechanical equipment.
You should take as many mathematics, technical/shop, & mechanical drawing classes as you can. Take science classes, including courses in Earth science, to gain some insight into agriculture, soil conservation, & the environment. Look into adult education pro grams available to high school students; in such a program, you may be able to enroll in pre-engineering courses.
A high school diploma is necessary, & some college & specialized experience is also important. A four-year education, along with some continuing education courses, can be very helpful in pursuing work, particularly if you’re seeking jobs with the government.
Postsecondary education for the agricultural equipment technician should include courses in general agriculture, agricultural power & equipment, practical engineering, hydraulics, agricultural-equipment business methods, electrical equipment, engineering, social science, economics, & sales techniques. On-the-job experience during the summer is invaluable & frequently is included as part of the regular curriculum in these programs. Students are placed on farms, functioning as technicians-in-training. They also may work in farm equipment dealerships where their time is divided between the sales, parts, & service departments. Occupational experience, one of the most important phases of the postsecondary training program, gives students an opportunity to discover which field best suits them & which phase of the business they prefer. Upon completion of this pro gram, most technical & community colleges award an associate’s degree.
The work of the agricultural equipment technician is similar to that of an engineer. You must have a knowledge of physical science & engineering principles & enough mathematical background to work with these principles. You must have a working knowledge of farm crops, machinery, & all agricultural-related products. You should be detail-oriented. You should also have people skills, as you’ll be working closely with professionals, other technicians, & farmers.
If you live in a farming community, you’ve probably already had some experience with farming equipment. Vocational agriculture education programs in high schools can be found in most rural settings, many suburban settings, & even in some urban schools. The teaching staff & counselors in these schools can provide considerable information about this career.
Light industrial machinery is now used in almost every industry. It is always helpful to watch machinery being used & to talk with people who own, operate, & repair it.
Summer & part-time work on a farm, in an agricultural equipment manufacturing plant, or in an equipment sales & service business offers opportunities to work on or near agricultural & light industrial machinery. Such a job may provide you with a clearer idea about the various activities, challenges, rewards, & possible limitations of this career.
Depending on their area of specialization, agricultural equipment technicians work for engineers, manufacturers, scientists, sales & services companies, & farmers. They can also find work with government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It is still possible to enter this career by starting as an inexperienced worker in a machinery manufacturer’s plant or on a farm & learning machine technician skills on the job. However, this approach is becoming increasingly difficult due to the complexity of modern machinery. Because of this, some formal classroom training is usually necessary, & many people find it difficult to complete even part- time study of the field’s theory & science while also working a full-time job.
Operators & managers of large, well-equipped farms & farm equipment companies in need of employees keep in touch with colleges offering agricultural equipment programs. Students who do well during their occupational experience period usually have an excellent chance of going to work for the same employer after graduation. Many colleges have an interview day on which personnel representatives of manufacturers, distributors, farm owners or managers, & dealers are invited to recruit students completing technician pro grams. In general, any student who does well in a training program can expect employment immediately upon graduation.
Opportunities for advancement & self-employment are excellent for those with the initiative to keep abreast of continuing developments in the farm equipment field. Technicians often attend company schools in sales & service or take advanced evening courses in colleges.
Agricultural technicians working for the government may be able to enter a position at GS-S (government wage scale), which was $23,442 in 2003. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that median hourly earnings for agricultural equipment technicians were $12.67 in 2001. Hourly pay ranged from less than $8.43 to more than $18.32. Those working on farms often receive room & board as a supplement to their annual salary. The salary that technicians eventually receive depends—as do most salaries—on individual ability, initiative, & the supply of skilled technicians in the field of work or locality. There is opportunity to work overtime during planting & harvesting seasons.
In addition to their salaries, most technicians receive fringe benefits such as health & retirement packages, paid vacations, & other benefits similar to those received by engineering technicians. Technicians employed in sales are usually paid a commission in addition to their base salary.
Working conditions vary according to the type of field chosen. Technicians who are employed by large farming operations will work indoors or outdoors depending on the season & the tasks that need to be done. Planning machine overhauls & the directing of such work usually are done in enclosed spaces equipped for it. As implied by its name, field servicing & repairs are done in the field.
Some agricultural equipment sales representatives work in their own or nearby communities, while others must travel extensively.
Technicians in agricultural equipment research, development, & production usually work under typical factory conditions: some work in an office or laboratory; others work in a manufacturing plant; or, in some cases, field testing & demonstration are performed where the machinery will be used.
For technicians who assemble, adjust, modify, or test equipment & for those who provide customer service, application studies, & maintenance services, the surroundings may be similar to large auto mobile service centers.
In all cases, safety precautions must be a constant concern. Appropriate clothing, an acute awareness of one’s environment, & careful lifting or hoisting of heavy machinery must be standard. While safety practices have improved greatly over the years, certain risks do exist. Heavy lifting may cause injury, & burns & cuts are always possible. The surroundings may be noisy & grimy. Some work is performed in cramped or awkward physical positions. Gasoline fumes & odors from oil products are a constant factor. Most technicians ordinarily work a 40-hour week, but emergency repairs may require overtime.
The Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that employment of agricultural equipment technicians is expected to grow more slowly than the average. However, agricultural equipment businesses now demand more expertise than ever before. A variety of complex specialized machines & mechanical devices are steadily being produced & modified to help farmers improve the quality & productivity of their labor. These machines require trained technicians to design, produce, test, sell, & service them. Trained workers also are needed to instruct the final owners in their proper repair, operation, & maintenance.
In addition, the agricultural industry is adopting advanced computer & electronic technology. Computer skills are becoming more & more useful in this field. Precision farming will also require specialized training as more agricultural equipment becomes hooked up to satellite systems.
As agriculture becomes more technical, the agricultural equipment technician will assume an increasingly vital role in helping farmers solve problems that interfere with efficient production. These opportunities exist not only in the United States, but also worldwide. As agricultural economies everywhere become mechanized, inventive technicians with training in modern business principles will find expanding employment opportunities abroad.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To read equipment sales statistics, agricultural reports, & other news of interest to agricultural equipment technicians, visit the AEM website.
Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM)
111 E. Wisconsin Aye, Suite 1000
Milwaukee, WI 53202-4806
At the FEMA website, you can learn about their publications & read industry news.
Farm Equipment Manufacturers Association (FEMA)
1000 Executive Parkway, Suite 100
St. Louis, MO 63141-6369