A couple of years ago, John Deere CEO Sam Allen memorably quipped: “Most people don't realize that one of our 8000 Series tractors has more computing power on it than the first space shuttle.”
That statement is awe-inspiring—and maybe a little terrifying. The average farm worker makes less than $11 per hour, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service. Yet workers are sometimes asked to operate expensive, sophisticated equipment. With the flood of new agtech making its way to market every year, farm workers likely will need to master an increasingly tech-savvy skillset in the future.
That requires a bit of crystal-ball gazing, says Dwight Koops, vice president of Crop Quest.
“How do you hire people for stuff that hasn’t even been invented yet?” Koops says. His Kansas-based full-service ag consulting firm has eight precision ag specialists on staff. His simple solution—hire the right people—is easier said than done, he admits. When farmers look for tech-savvy employees, he says, the mindset of prospective workers is just as important as their skillset.
“We’re looking for creative innovators, self-starters who are willing to fail along the way,” he explains. “It certainly helps if the person has an interest in technology and computers, and likes to take things apart and put them back together.”
The Four Cs. More and more, employers desire workers who display the 4 Cs, says Charles Fadel, an author and education expert. That means they think critically, work creatively, communicate effectively and are able to collaborate.
“This is not a new need, but it has been growing in importance as competition and time-to-market pressures intensify,” Fadel says. “Just about any contemporary question requires innovative and critical thinking.”
In a recent Facebook post, former “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe wrote about the mindset that modern employees need to thrive in the workplace. The encouraging factor, he argues, is that this mindset is free for the taking.
“I believe a solid work ethic and a measure of ambition are essential ingredients to success, and readily available to anyone,” Rowe wrote. “Obviously, the desire to succeed and the willingness to work hard are not enough to guarantee success, but success without either is impossible.”
The technology you use on your operation matters, too, Koops argues. Some agtech is relatively easy to learn, while other technology requires a much steeper learning curve. Are you giving employees the time and training to master each one?
“There’s no easy button,” he says. “You have to put in the work.”
Give employees some wiggle room for trial and error, Koops adds. His precision ag specialists are instructed to research as much new technology as they can. Clarifying that goal has proven to be an important step, he says. It helps them sort through a “boatload” of hardware and software to land on the most practical and tangible solutions.
Technology training isn’t easy, Koops acknowledges. It’s a moving target. The important thing is to remain diligent and open-minded when it comes to enhancing employee agtech skills.
“It’s a tough topic because I’m not sure anybody has good answers,” he says.