Learning New Tricks

You're never too old to learn something new!

Precision Technology

Learning New Tricks

You're never too old to learn something new!

By Lorne McClinton

Farm equipment used to change relatively slowly but not anymore. Every year the technology in tractors, planters, sprayers, and combines offers new data collection features that can help those who take advantage of them extract more profits from their farms. Some farmers take to the new technology like a duck to water. Others are uncertain whether they want to try to learn new skills — especially as they age. The average Canadian and American farmer is now in his late fifties.

Warren Stevenson, a 54-year-old grain and oilseed producer near Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, was in the first wave of producers who adopted GPS guidance and autosteer technology. He’s been mapping his yields and collecting data for more than a decade. Then he works with an agronomy company to come up with variable rate plans to even out yields on his fields.

“I’m not super techie but you know I always took an interest in new technology,” Stevenson says. “But it’s been trying to get my dad [who’s 80] to be more comfortable using GPS. He says there’s just too much technology; his eyes glaze over when I try to tell him how to do something. So I keep it simple and say, ‘OK, Dad…just do this.’”

State of mind. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is one of the oldest sayings in the English language, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. You are only too old to learn new skills if you choose to be. It’s a state of mind.

The more years of data you collect the more valuable it becomes.

In fact there’s a lot of research evidence that shows keeping your brain engaged is good for you as you age, says Scott Maitland, an associate professor in human development at the University of Guelph in Ontario. Even simple things like reading, doing crossword puzzles, or retrieving information will keep your mind sharp and even helps regain performance in those who have shown deficits.

“One of the biggest differences in learning as we age is related to the novelty of the material and whether or not processing speed (quick response time) is important. Most people in their mid 50s are computer literate because they grew up at about the same time that computers and technology evolved. Even the current cohort of adults in their 60s, 70s, and even many in their 80s are not as fearful of computers and technology as some think.”

Many producers master the technology in the field with a bit of help from dealer customer support or by watching instructional videos on YouTube with their smart phone. Others prefer more formal educational settings, and sign up for dealer training courses and seminars on technology use in ag.

Real world examples. Hands-on instructional training on how to use computer control panels is an ideal way to help older users master the technology, Maitland says. It should include real world examples that will help participants put what they are learning into context.

Most farmers in their 50s are computer literate but many in their 60s, 70s and 80s are comfortable, too.

Older learners will retain new material or instructions better if you don’t rush them when they are trying to learn something new, Maitland says. Lots of repetition helps, too.

“I’ve found that younger farmers tend to pick up on the functionality of some of the systems a little faster than older ones in the training workshops I’ve given, but that’s not to say that older farmers don’t grasp it, “ says Ian Cook, a field advisor and trainer with Enns Brothers in Brandon, Manitoba. “It might take them a little bit more time to get up to speed with the systems, but they can see their value and identify where they will help them manage their farms really quickly.”

“If you’re not using these systems already then my advice would be to just do it,” Stevenson says. “Take the time to learn how to use the displays properly and start recording your yield data. You can always figure out what you are going to do with it later.

“The more years you collect data the more valuable it becomes to you because you can go back and see what has been happening in a field over time. It really lets you know how productive it is. There are so many things this technology allows you to do and all of them make you more money.”

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