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Today's farm is typically much larger than in the past, so few if any types of farming can be done economically without specialized machines. Farm equipment has grown in size, complexity, and variety. Many farms have several tractors equipped with from 40- to 400-horsepower diesel engines. Self-propelled combines, hay balers, swathers, crop dryers, planters, tillage equipment, grain augers, manure spreaders, and elevators are common, as well as spray and irrigation equipment.
As farm machinery has grown larger with more electronic and hydraulic controls, farmers have increasingly turned to farm equipment dealers for service and repair of the machines they sell. These dealers employ farm equipment mechanics, often called service technicians, to do this work and also to maintain and repair the smaller lawn and garden tractors many dealers sell to suburban homeowners.
Mechanics spend much of their time repairing and adjusting malfunctioning equipment that has been brought to the shop. But during planting and harvesting seasons, they may travel to farms to make emergency repairs on equipment so that important farming operations are not unduly delayed.
Mechanics also perform preventive maintenance. Periodically, they test, adjust, and clean parts and tune engines. In large shops, mechanics generally specialize in certain types of work, such as diesel engine overhaul, hydraulics, or clutch and transmission repair. Others specialize in repairing the air-conditioning units often included in the cabs of combines and large tractors, or in repairing certain types of equipment such as hay balers. Some mechanics also repair milking, irrigation, and other equipment on farms. In addition, some mechanics who work for dealers and equipment wholesalers assemble new implements and machinery and sometimes do body work, repairing dented or torn sheet metal on tractors or other machinery.
Mechanics use many basic handtools, including wrenches, pliers, hammers, and screwdrivers. They also use precision equipment, such as micrometers and torque wrenches; engine testing equipment, such as dynamometers to measure engine performance; and engine analysis units and compression testers, to find worn piston rings or leaking cylinder valves. They use welding equipment or power tools to repair broken parts.
Generally, farm equipment mechanics work indoors. Modern farm equipment repair shops are well ventilated, lighted, and heated, but older shops may not offer these advantages. Farm equipment mechanics come in contact with grease, fuel and oil, hydraulic fluid, antifreeze, rust, and dirt, and there is danger of injury when they repair heavy parts supported on jacks or by hoists. Care must also be used to avoid burns from hot engine parts, cuts from sharp edges of machinery, and hazards associated with farm chemicals.
As with most agricultural occupations, the hours of work of farm equipment mechanics vary according to the season of the year. During the busy planting and harvesting seasons, mechanics often work 6 or 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours daily. In winter months, however, mechanics may work fewer than 40 hours a week, and some may be laid off.
Farm equipment mechanics held about 41,000 jobs in 1994. Most worked in service departments of farm equipment dealers. Others worked in independent repair shops, and in shops on large farms. Most farm equipment mechanics worked in small repair shops. Nearly 1 out of 10 farm equipment mechanics was self-employed.
Because some type of farming is done in nearly every area of the United States, farm equipment mechanics are employed throughout the country. Employment is concentrated in small cities and towns, making this an attractive career choice for people who do not wish to live in a large city. However, many mechanics work in the rural fringes of metropolitan areas, so farm equipment mechanics who prefer the conveniences of city life need not live in rural areas.
Farm equipment mechanics must have an aptitude for mechanical work. With the development of more complex farm implements, technical training has become more important. A growing number of employers prefer to hire trainee farm equipment mechanics who have completed a 1- or 2-year training program in agricultural or diesel mechanics at a vocational or technical school or community or junior college. In general, employers seek persons with training or previous experience in diesel and gasoline engines, the maintenance and repair of hydraulics, and welding, all of which may be learned in many high schools and vocational schools. Mechanics also need a basic knowledge of electronics and must be able to read circuit diagrams and blueprints in order to make complex repairs to electrical and other systems.
Most farm equipment mechanics enter the occupation as trainees and become proficient in their trade by assisting experienced mechanics. The length of training varies with the helper's aptitude and prior experience. At least 2 years of on-the-job training usually are necessary before a mechanic can efficiently do the more routine types of repair work, and additional training and experience are required for highly specialized repair and overhaul jobs.
Many farm equipment mechanics enter this occupation from a related occupation. For example, they may have experience working as diesel mechanics, mobile heavy equipment mechanics, or automotive mechanics. A farm background is an advantage since working on a farm usually provides experience in basic farm equipment repairs. Persons who enter from related occupations also may start as trainees or helpers, but they may not require as long a period of on-the-job training.
A few farm equipment mechanics learn the trade by completing an apprenticeship program, which lasts from 3 to 4 years and includes on-the-job as well as classroom training in all phases of farm equipment repair and maintenance. Applicants for these programs usually are chosen from shop helpers.
Keeping abreast of changing farm equipment technology requires a great deal of careful study of service manuals and analysis of complex diagrams. Many farm equipment mechanics and trainees receive refresher training in short-term programs conducted by farm equipment manufacturers. These programs usually last several days. A company service representative explains the design and function of equipment and teaches maintenance and repair on new models of farm equipment. In addition, some dealers may send employees to local vocational schools that hold special week-long classes in subjects such as air-conditioning repair or hydraulics.
Persons considering a career in this field should have the manual dexterity needed to handle tools and equipment. Occasionally, strength is required to lift, move, or hold heavy parts in place. Difficult repair jobs require problem-solving abilities to diagnose the source of the machine's malfunction. Experienced mechanics should be able to work independently with minimum supervision.
Farm equipment mechanics usually must buy their own handtools, although employers furnish power tools and test equipment. Trainee mechanics are expected to accumulate their own tools as they gain experience. Experienced mechanics have thousands of dollars invested in tools.
Farm equipment mechanics may advance to shop supervisor, service manager, or manager of a farm equipment dealership. Some mechanics open their own repair shops. A few farm equipment mechanics advance to service representatives for farm equipment manufacturers.
Opportunities should be good for persons who have completed formal training in farm equipment repair or diesel mechanics; persons without such training are expected to encounter increasing difficulty entering mechanic jobs. Employment of farm equipment mechanics is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005. The continued consolidation of farmland into fewer and larger farms and the use of new farming practices will cause farmers to invest in new, more efficient and specialized equipment, and the increasing complexity of equipment will force more farmers to rely on mechanics for service and repairs. Most job openings will arise from the need to replace experienced mechanics who retire.
The increasing sophistication of newer farm equipment is making it more difficult for farmers to do their own repairs, forcing them to rely more on skilled mechanics in the future. For example, many newer tractors have much larger, electronically controlled engines and air-conditioned cabs and feature advanced transmissions with many speeds. New planting equipment uses electronics to spread seeds more uniformly, and electronic controls help harvesters reduce waste. Although farm machinery is expensive and generally designed and manufactured to withstand many years of rugged use, it nevertheless requires periodic service and repairs. Increasingly this work will require a farm equipment mechanic.
Sales of smaller lawn and garden equipment constitute a growing share of the business of most farm equipment dealers. Most of the large manufacturers of farm equipment now offer a line of these smaller tractors and sell them through their established dealerships. Although relatively few mechanics are required to service this equipment, more will be needed as household demand for lawn and garden equipment increases as the Nation's population grows.
The agricultural equipment industry experiences periodic declinesmostly in sales. Layoffs of mechanics, however, are uncommon because farmers often elect to repair old equipment rather than purchase new equipment.
Farm equipment mechanics had median weekly earnings of about $382 in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $294 and $528 a week. The lowest paid 10 percent earned less than $248 a week, and the top 10 percent earned over $696 a week. Most farm equipment mechanics also have the opportunity to work overtime during the planting and harvesting seasons, for which they generally are paid time and one-half.
Very few farm equipment mechanics belong to labor unions, but those who do are members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
Other workers who repair large mobile machinery include aircraft mechanics, automotive mechanics, diesel mechanics, and mobile heavy equipment mechanics.
Details about work opportunities may be obtained from local farm equipment dealers and local offices of the State employment service. For general information about the occupation, write to:
North American Equipment Dealers Association, 10877 Watson Rd., St. Louis, MO 63127.
Deere and Co., John Deere Rd., Moline, IL 61265.
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