Farm Equipment Mechanics

Nature of the Work | Working Conditions | Employment | Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement | Job Outlook | Earnings | Related Occupations | Sources of Additional Information

Significant Points
  • Skill in using computerized diagnostic equipment is becoming more important.
  • Opportunities should be best for persons who complete post secondary programs in farm equipment or diesel mechanics.
  • Jobs are concentrated in small towns and rural areas.
Nature of the Work [About this section] Index

Many of today’s farms use more sophisticated equipment and advanced business practices than ever before. On average, farms have become larger—although fewer in number—allowing the economical use of specialized farm equipment to increase crop yields even while employing fewer and fewer workers. Specialized farm machinery has grown in size, complexity, and variety, and does everything from tilling the land to milking the cows. To operate efficiently, many farms have several tractors equipped with 40- to 400-horsepower engines. Planters, tillers, fertilizer spreaders, and spray and irrigation equipment help grow the crops and combines, hay balers, swathers, and crop drying equipment aid in harvesting them.

Farm equipment dealers employ most of the farm equipment mechanics. Often called service technicians, these workers service, maintain, and repair farm equipment as well as smaller lawn and garden tractors sold to suburban homeowners. What was typically a general repairer’s job around the farm has evolved into a technical career much in demand. Farmers have increasingly turned to farm equipment dealers to service and repair their equipment because the machinery has grown in complexity. Modern equipment uses more electronics and hydraulics making it difficult to perform repairs without some specialized training.

Mechanics work mostly on equipment brought into the shop for repair and adjustment. During planting and harvesting seasons, they may travel to farms to make emergency repairs to minimize delays in farm operations.

Mechanics also perform preventive maintenance on older equipment. Periodically, they test, adjust, clean, and tune engines to keep them in proper working order. The level of service is determined by the difficulty of the problem. In large shops, mechanics usually specialize in certain types of work, such as diesel engine overhaul, hydraulic maintenance, or clutch and transmission repair. Others specialize in certain repairs, such as air-conditioning units often included to cool the cabs of combines and large tractors, or the repair of specific types of equipment such as hay balers. In addition, some mechanics assemble new machinery, do body work, and repair 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, in addition to welding equipment and power tools to repair broken parts. Increasingly, computerized engine testing equipment, such as dynamometers, engine analysis units, and compression testers, is used to measure engine performance and to find worn piston rings or leaking cylinder valves. Soon, mechanics will have access to computerized diagnostic equipment to monitor and locate malfunctions without turning a wrench.

New technology allows farmers to achieve record crop yields from small plots of land by more precisely tailoring their tillage to accommodate the soil conditions of each. This growing use of site-specific technology or precision farming, as it is known, makes use of the Global Positioning System (GPS), yield monitors, and variable rate applicators. These computerized systems link farmers to satellites and other advanced devices to better monitor their crops and land use. More often than not, farmers rely on their equipment dealer to be their one stop for all repair needs. To better satisfy customer needs, traditional repair shops have begun to service advanced equipment, requiring the mechanic to acquire new skills.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Commonly, farm equipment mechanics work indoors though some do repairs in the field. Most farm equipment mechanics work in well ventilated, lighted, and heated repair shops, but older shops may not offer these amenities; others may work in the farmer’s equipment shed or barn where conditions may not be as ideal as in the mechanic’s repair shop. Farm equipment mechanics handle greasy and dirty parts and may stand or lie in awkward positions to repair vehicles and equipment. They often lift heavy parts and tools and handle various agricultural chemicals and solutions. Minor cuts, burns, and bruises are common, but serious accidents can be avoided when the shop is kept clean and orderly and safety practices observed.

As with most agricultural occupations, the hours of work for 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 slow winter months, however, mechanics may work fewer than 40 hours a week.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Farm equipment mechanics held about 49,000 jobs in 1998. Most mechanics worked in service departments of farm equipment dealers. Others worked in independent repair shops, and in shops on large farms. More than 1 out of 10 farm equipment mechanics was self-employed.

Because nearly every area of the United States has some form of farming, it is common to find farm equipment mechanics employed throughout the country. Employment is concentrated in small towns and rural areas, making this an attractive career choice for people who wish to live away from the big 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.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement [About this section]   Index

Technical training is becoming more important because of the development of more complex farm machinery, and because of recent efforts to standardize skills within the occupation. Employers prefer to hire trainee farm equipment mechanics who have completed a 1- or 2-year post-secondary training program in agricultural or farm mechanics at a vocational school or community college. However, if these programs are not offered, study of diesel mechanics offers a strong background. Programs in industrial maintenance, which focus on hydraulics, electronics, engine repair, and welding, are also good preparation. Mechanics need knowledge of computers, and must have the aptitude to read circuit diagrams and blueprints in order to make complex repairs to electrical 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. Usually, 2 years of on-the-job training are necessary for a mechanic to do routine types of repair work efficiently. Highly specialized repair and overhaul jobs usually require additional training.

Many farm equipment mechanics enter this occupation through careers in related occupations. For example, they may have experience working as a diesel mechanic, mobile heavy equipment mechanic, or automotive mechanic. Prior experience in farm work also provides a foundation for the skills and training necessary to become a farm equipment mechanic as farm workers often make minor equipment repairs to save repair costs. Similarly, people with military backgrounds in mechanics have valuable experience and training. Persons who enter from related occupations may start as trainees or helpers, however, they may require less on-the-job training.

Employers look for skilled individuals with the aptitude 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 skills to diagnose the source of the machine’s malfunction and choose the correct course of action to fix the problem. The importance of computer skills will increase as many more dealers gain access to computerized diagnostic equipment on a laptop computer. This technology will allow mechanics to simply plug into the farm equipment and do a complete diagnostic check by pushing a button. Experienced mechanics should be able to work independently with minimal supervision.

Farm equipment mechanics may keep abreast of changes in farm equipment technology by going to trade shows, by reading the latest farm equipment literature, and by carefully studying service manuals and analyzing complex diagrams. Many farm equipment mechanics and trainees receive refresher training in short-term programs conducted by farm equipment manufacturers. This is the dealers’ way of keeping their employees trained in the latest technology and standards within the industry. A company service representative explains the design, function, and techniques required to repair and maintain 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. Training courses delivered via satellite and video tapes have become increasingly popular ways to standardize training techniques and to cut expenses needed to reach individual dealers and repair shops.

Mechanics’ personal tools are very important to their livelihood. Farm equipment mechanics usually buy their own handtools, although employers furnish power tools and computerized test equipment. Trainee mechanics are expected to accumulate their own tools as they gain experience. Experienced mechanics have thousands of dollars invested in their 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 or invest in franchised dealers. A few farm equipment mechanics with strong customer service backgrounds advance to service representatives for farm equipment manufacturers.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Employment of farm equipment mechanics is expected to decline through the year 2008. Most job openings will arise from the need to replace experienced mechanics who retire. Nevertheless, job opportunities should be good for persons who have completed formal training in farm equipment repair, diesel mechanics, or a similar program. Employers of farm equipment mechanics report difficulty finding qualified candidates to fill available positions because people trained to repair farm equipment have the fundamental skills and knowledge