The “How do I ______?” Challenge

I went out on an AMS service call the other day.  The customer was not one of my regular customers so I didn’t know him very well.  The night before one of our techs was out working on his combine. The tech was telling me that he was having a problem with the map flipping on his 2600.  I told him to let the customer know I’d be out in the morning to put an update in the 2600, iTC, and ATU.  When I got there, I was sincerely surprised.  The customer told me that he went and downloaded the update last night and updated it himself.  The only problem he had was when he updated it the ATU had lost its activation code.  A quick call to Greenstar Activations and he was up and running again.

Now, that doesn’t sound surprising someone could handle doing an update on their own so here is some information on him.  He is pushing 70 years old.  This was in a 9500 combine running ATU and Yield Mapping and around 400 acres.  This customer knew the ins and outs of his monitor.  He had done all of his own setup on it, and had it steering really well.  He knew where to find answers to questions.  All he did was read the operators manual that came with his monitor.  He had more of a grasp on Precision Ag technology and what it meant for him to make sure he knew how to operate it effectively than some guys half his age farming 10x more.

When someone calls and asks how to do something basic with setup, I like to ask if they looked in the manual.  The most common response I get is “I don’t have time to look in the manual, that is what I have you for”.  It is right then that I realize that customer is probably never going to use his Precision Ag technology to its fullest because he won’t take the time to learn the details of their equipment.  I have no problem telling you how to do something, but it is comparable a tech coming out and setting your combine at the beginning of the season and never touching it again.  It might be a good starting point, but you won’t know how to customize it to your operation.  That can turn in to lost time and money.

I remember in high school reading the manual for the PF3000 yield monitor we had. I haven’t dealt with a PF3000 in probably 5 years, but could probably still walk you through over the phone how to get through it. There hasn’t been a piece of technology we have on the farm that I haven’t taken the time to look at the manual and read through a bit. I learn something each time. It will make you very good at diagnosing a simple setup issue you might have because it spells out in the manual what something needs to work. You don’t have to sit down and read every page, pick a section that corresponds to your task at hand and glance through it, my bet is that you will find yourself reading more pages than skipping. I got called out once to a farmers sprayer to diagnose an issue. I am by no means an expert on sprayers so I had to look at the manual for it. I actually had to take the shrink wrap off of the manual, while doing so the farmer asked me “You mean you have to look at that silly book for the answer?”. I told him that is where I find 90% of my answers. Within 5 minutes I found my answer and had him fixed and on his way.

However, there are problems with manuals on technology. As soon as the new software version is released the manual is out of date.  Sadly, they haven’t figured out how to get print to automatically update on its own.  John Deere has realized this and has a page on Stellar Support that has all of the updated manuals on it.  I realize the best spot to have a manual is in the cab as you are working with it.  I know not everyone has a smartphone, but most of us are carrying one now, or even a smartphone and a tablet.  All of the manuals on the website are in PDF.  So you can save them to your phone or tablet and view them as you need too.  This does two things.  It allows you to always have the manuals with you and you can keep the original manual in its shrink wrap so it doesn’t lose any value (at least I think that is why I find so many manuals still in the shrink wrap).  If you don’t have a smartphone or tablet, you could pick up a cheap E-reader that would handle PDF files to save the manuals to. Below is a screenshot of my iPhone with some AMS manuals in it that I use most often. I have a GS2/GS3 manual, iTEC Pro, iGuide, SF3000/iTC manual all saved on my phone for quick access. I even have competitive manuals on my phone for Ag Leader and CaseIH in case I would need to figure out one of their monitors. If I don’t have one I can just go directly to Stellar Support and download it and look at it. Believe it or not even your AMS Specialists have to look at the manuals to answer questions. There is just too much to know about every piece.

My challenge to you is very simple. If you are picking up your phone to call your respective Precision Ag Specialists to ask them “How do I _______?” on this monitor, pick up the manual first and look in there. You will learn a lot more by reading how to do something than having them tell you how to do it. While looking for the information you need, you might run across something you didn’t know and could help you down the road.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

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7 comments


  1. Kevin Nelson

    Yesterday I put a tongue in cheek “Harsh” on your tweet about this subject. Nice job of filling in the blanks and giving us great advice.

  2. This technology is still new for everyone. And it is only used a few times a year. It will take time for farmers to get used to how to run it all. But over time we will get the hang of it. I haven’t called my tech guy near as much as last year. Plus I have you guys on twitter.

  3. Alex Silva

    Great subject, if only every farmer read the manual at least once, they would find out that they can find the help they need on the manuals. In Brazil, at least in the Center West region, the application season is ending, and I found myself reading a lot of manuals for the competitors manuals, so I could help my customers, and I think they will need me to read some more material as the sprayer starts.

  4. Dean Walker

    Just goes to show that everybody has their own skill/comfort level with technology. I’ve seen guys read the instructons and still not be able to get things set the way they need. I think the “teach a man to fish” idea is the best analogy to the situation, just make sure that your teaching them in a way that they retain the information.

  5. Dennis

    Depends a bit probably on the guy/gal working with the equipment. I myself like to play with it until I find out how it works. As a kid i did the same with my toys, first get a screwdriver and open it up to see how it works, than put it back together… (did not do that with my precision equipment though, but you get the point…) I think that if your not comfortable with working with it, you end up not using half of the features. My first EZ-Guide Plus I had in my pick-up for a while just to get familiar with it before using it in the field…

  6. Nic

    I have found with the age of the guys that we have running our equipment that it would be easier to just be able to fix their problems from my cab. We have 7 Tractors running in the field in the spring and fall but i don’t have that many full time employees, with ages varying from 22-75 it is difficult to get everyone to see what you are talking about let alone figure out what to push to make it work. So I have decided to do 2 things. 1. I had 4 John Deere 1800 displays and 3 John Deere 2600 displays. I found the setup on the 1800 to be a pain in the neck, i certainly didn’t like the roll around knob to get to where i wanted to be. So I decided to trade in those 1800 displays for 3 2630s and 1 2600 for the simple reason that they would all be touch screen and they are easier to navigate. Which is what my dealer told me when i bought the 1800s but at that time I was caught like i think a lot of people were with the brown box displays. 2. I have also started a step by step guide to the 2600s and the 2630s. I found that my crew was not using the factory quick reference guide to setup anything and relying on me to do all of it either over the radio or in the cab. So I asked my wife’s grandfather who is the 75 year old that is one of our part time guys why he didn’t use it he said that it was confusing and not wordy enough. So i downloaded the simulator from john deere’s stellar support website and with my sniping tool and power point i am building it. I had him over the other day to see if i was on the right track. I gave him what I had done so far and powered up a display on my desk he got to part where I had stopped and said that so far it was really useful. Then added that it was a little wordy. The simulator is a great tool to use if you are a seasonal user just to get used to how to do things.

  7. Pingback: John Deere GreenStar AMS Questions this week | AgSnap

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