When technology stops working at planting time, tech specialists usually get the full brunt of a farmer's stress. So what's it look like from this side of the fence?
Many of the troubleshooting procedures require engineering data that is beyond our field level knowledge. We generally turn to the manufacturer's technical support at this point. Sounds simple enough, right? Well guess what? Because what we do is weather dependent, all farmers are going to the field in generally the same time frame. As a result, all the system failures are occurring at nearly the same time.
The call volume to support can be astronomical so field techs wait, leave messages and wait for call backs. This can add stress to a farmer who is tired, stressed and generally mad at the world.
Who does the farmer have to take it out on? The only person in proximity is generally the field tech. In the farmers eyes at that point the tech represents everything keeping him from planting.
The tech inadvertently becomes the scapegoat for the manufacturer and technology in general. I don't blame the farmer for edginess; time is money to him at that point. The farmer feels he spent good money on the equipment to start with and now he is spending more while waiting for it to be fixed.
More than once this spring I ran into GPS equipment that would not obtain satellite signal. In the end I discovered it was a software issue that was relatively easy to fix. However, with the first system that exhibited the symptoms I had no idea what the trouble was.
Luckily, I had duplicate hardware to swap components to verify each combination replacement did not remedy the situation. This procedure is what manufacture support in general relies upon to diagnose problems. We call it 'swap-nostics.' For a dealer the inventory required to effectively diagnose issues can be astronomical.
After I changed all components I still could not get the GPS to obtain signal. This was after six hours of trying and knowing the farmer was extremely frustrated with his "new" system not functioning.
Finally I made another call to support and got a different tech who asked where I was geographically located. After relaying my position he said "oh yeah we have been seeing that a lot there." He quickly passed me to another person who was handling that issue and after she sent me new software we had the system running in under thirty minutes.
It was frustrating to know that support had the answer to my problem all along -- all I needed to do was talk to the right person.
I think this suggests manufacturer procedures for tech support need to be amended when it comes to dissemination of "known issues." Although the situation was resolved I know we hurt the farmer's confidence in technology. I am sure the next time he thinks about upgrading he will think back to the day spent waiting to plant.
Success in desperate times
You have heard about the bad and the ugly parts of being an agriculture tech consultant and you are probably asking yourself why someone puts themselves through this sort of thing. Well, there is also good in being a tech consultant; it comes through the satisfaction of helping someone succeed in desperate times.
My drive comes from knowing that I was able to find and fix most problems that occur in the field. Even considering all of the madness, I would still do it for the satisfaction of knowing I was helping people. There is no greater reward than a farmer sincerely saying "thank you for the help."
So as you can see, the last several weeks have been quite the adventure. The spring of 2013 is not new to me; every year has been similar. Obviously, I am not sure what the solution to all this is, but I know that if farmers who have existing systems would spend some time in February or March verifying the functionality of their systems some of the first day failures would not occur.
The discovered issues could be fixed in a time when the stress of missing optimal planting conditions would not exist.
For the farmers who are considering purchasing equipment, don't wait until March 15th to order it. Get your order made in December or January. This will give your dealer the time needed to get the hardware from the manufacturer and get it installed and its operation verified.
The good news is the spring rush is, for the most part, over for another year!!