As modern farms have grown in size, their need for complex machines capable of working hundreds of acres has grown as well. No longer working with just a simple till, modern farmers employ multiple tractors, each equipped with up to four hundred horse-powered engines. Along with large tractors, there are other expensive, complex machines like irrigation systems, combines, hay balers and many more. Farm equipment mechanics are highly skilled and trained technicians who are called in by farmers and farm equipment dealers to perform repairs and regular maintenance on these large and expensive pieces of machinery.
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Most farm equipment mechanics will work for a farm equipment dealer; they will work mostly in a shop and work on machines brought in for repair. During the planting and harvesting seasons, mechanics will be especially busy and they may be called out to a farm for emergency repairs. A mechanic will begin by assessing a damaged piece of farm equipment and then he or she will use their training and experience to discover what the problem is and take the necessary steps to repair the machine.
A mechanic who specializes in farm equipment will have to have a thorough knowledge of the various machines used in the field such as planters, tillers, spray equipment, tractors, and machines used to milk cows. They will need to be able to take apart and rebuild these machines, be able to differentiate between working and nonworking parts, and know where to order the proper machine parts.
Farm equipment mechanics will also need to perform regular diagnostics on equipment to make sure that these expensive pieces of machinery are kept clean and well-oiled as to last the farmer as long as possible. Mechanics may also be called in to repair dents or scratches on the machines as well as other cosmetic concerns, and to service older models.
Farm equipment mechanics need to have a solid grasp of the basics of engines, motors and repairs. They must also have experience working with basic hand tools as well as more complex equipment like torque wrenches, welders, and heavy power tools. A mechanic in this field will literally get their hands dirty and will come into contact with grease and other solutions; they may often have to spend a great deal of time on their feet, or they may have to lie on their backs under equipment for long periods of time. Mechanics in this field will also have to lift heavy objects and work with precision cutting tools and machines with moving parts that could injure anyone who was careless with them.
A mechanic has to be able to read and follow instructions, and they must have great attention to detail and patience. Many of the machines they work on, while large, may have thousands of small parts that the mechanic must keep track of and know how to reassemble. A mechanic is a problem solver who does not give up easily, and since these machines will have farmers and other men working on them after the mechanic is done, it is imperative that the mechanic has done his job perfectly so that the machine does not break and potentially injure someone.
With the advent of more complex machines most farm equipment mechanics receive training at a one-to-two year vocational school or take one to two years of post-secondary education. However, they do not need to specialize in farm equipment managing; students can also study diesel mechanics and other heavy equipment managing and then use those skills in their careers as a farm equipment mechanic. Washington State University offers a popular program in Agricultural Production that would be a good first step for this type of career as does the University of Illinois and Utah State University. After completing their classes, most of the training will be completed on the job, learning from more experienced mechanics.
Most mechanics will work in well-lit, well-heated shops with up-to-date equipment. However, if an equipment mechanic works on the farm, the comfort level might be different. In peak seasons the mechanic may have to travel to the farm and work outside in hot or cold weather. There may also be a large customer service component to being a mechanic as customers will bring their machines to the shop for a repair or to buy new parts and will often have questions that only the mechanic can answer.
Many farm equipment mechanics are self-employed, either working from their own garages or on the farm. Since some form of farming takes place in so many different locations in the continental United States, there is potential for a career as a farm equipment mechanic anywhere he or she may want to live. However, they will find the best options for employment in rural, farm-heavy areas.
The pay rate for someone in this position depends on where they work and when; during planting and harvesting, farm equipment mechanics will have a lot more work and potential for overtime. The median average pay rate for farm equipment mechanics is around $11 an hour, however those who become experts in the field can expect to earn over $16 and more.