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4 tips on ensuring staff have the right precision farming skills

Training is an essential part of arable farming. An increasing reliance on complicated machinery and recording means staff need to be kept up to date, especially when upgrading kit.

There is a host of training available ranging from formal courses organised by machinery manufacturers and dealers to more informal learning. This could be in the form of accessing user groups and online forums sharing experiences.

Whatever training is undertaken, farmers are advised to make sure it is tailored to what they need for the development of their business, rather than what they are given. Better knowledge will help bring the team closer together.

Here are some pointers on how to ensure your staff have the skills to make the most of precision farming hardware.

The importance of training

There are several factors to consider when reviewing training needs, starting with how many people are involved in the precision farming operation. Operator, farm manager, farm secretary, agronomist, technician, sales person, the list goes on and on.

The number of people may be longer than you think and they all need to buy in to what the aims and objectives of the farm are. Because precision farming technology has been sold on the premise “it works automatically”, great care has to be taken that the automation has been set up correctly from the start.

Photo credit: Jim Varney

Photo credit: Jim Varney

Monitors on vehicles have so many features and functions that they can overwhelm even the most experienced operator at the start. Therefore, installation of systems has to be handled with great care to ensure they are being used correctly and even very experienced operators will benefit from training during installation.

However, training is deemed expensive, it’s never held at the right time and doesn’t cover what it needs to. And if it does all of that, then it’s forgotten from one year to the next. Frustration then sets in.

Training tips

  • Ensure training is tailored to what you need
  • Even very experienced users will benefit from training
  • Follow-up training will help answer queries that arise after use
  • Reminder training can help with simple tasks
  • Don’t forget farm software
  • Technical support lines can form the basis of a short training session.

Making training work better

How can training be more effective? It’s a really difficult one on many levels, but there has to be a solution, otherwise the opportunities presented by equipment manufactures for farmers will be lost because of the perceived complexity of the system.

“It’s not intuitive to set up,” is a frequently heard comment, but the challenge faced by suppliers is that what might be logical for one person is illogical to another. Similarly, a particular feature might be vital for one operator but not required by another. This is where training becomes a challenge for manufacturers and technology providers.

So what can be done to help?

  • Reduce the information and training overload during installation
  • Be specific with your hardware provider on the most important feature you want to know about
  • Ensure the monitor is set up correctly at the start with the correct vehicle/machine settings.

With the time pressures farmers face in real life, not many are able to practise using a new monitor before going live in an operation. If, however, you are able to test out variable-rate application on a tractor and spreader before actually applying product to check the connections and variable-rate map, the probability of the system working successfully increases greatly.

Follow-up training

After the initial handover or delivery of the monitor has been completed, are you able to access some follow-up training from your supplier? Once the operator has had experience of using the monitor, a lot more questions will arise and a training session will be much more valuable after some hands-on work in the field.

Photo credit: Stephane Gautier, Alamy Stock Photo

Photo credit: Stephane Gautier, Alamy Stock Photo

Then we have reminder training. Does the hardware supplier provide training in other forms; via the internet or mobile devices to allow an operator to remind themselves of how to carry out a “simple” task on the monitor that they have forgotten?

Monitor screen sharing is becoming more and more popular as a support and training delivery mechanism for the simple, easily forgotten aspects of the monitor.

Data management software

Then there is data management to consider as well. Software is generally not used as often as it should be, so remembering all the nuances of how to use it successfully is tough.

Training is vital therefore on how to use it successfully – and the type of training is key. Do you need to have a full day dedicated to the features of the software or short sessions on specific aspects when the activity on the farm dictates?

The majority of software providers have a technical support line to help with technical questions, but why not use it as a short and sharp training session on specific tasks? This may not be the traditional training route, but it helps ensure the software is delivering the information the business needs at the right time.