Agricultural engineer Nigel Summerfield

Name: Nigel Summerfield
Age: 59
Job title: Group Customer Support Manager
Employer: Rea Valley Tractors Ltd
Qualifications: I have “O level” (remember them!) Maths, English, Tech Drawing and “CSE” French and German. I then went on to City & Guilds of London Institute Agricultural Mechanics 015 Certificate and C&G Agricultural Technicians Certificate 031 part II. I have got numerous manufacturers training certificates, counterbalance forklift truck and Telescopic Handler driving licenses, Refrigerant Gas Handler’s Licence, Health and Safety training and a red badge for swimming!

Nigel Summerfield

Rea Valley are a four outlet dealer for John Deere machinery and JCB Agricultural products, across the midlands and Wales. I live in Lichfield, Staffs, a small city 14 miles north or Birmingham, and my role includes selling maintenance plans, extended warranties, dispute resolution and resolving technical queries, so a mixed bag of activities all over our trading area.

"Engineering. What a word!"

Engineering. What a word! It covers such a wide variety of skills, industries and occupations you couldn’t list them all. Fortunately I don’t have to because I can only tell you about the area of Engineering I have worked in most of my life and that is…Agricultural Engineering.

What is an Agricultural Engineer I hear you say? 
Well I was the man a farmer would ring up if his tractor, combine, sprayer or potato harvester broke down, be it day or night, rain or shine, in the field, on the road or in his yard. It was this variety that I loved about the job, as no two days were the same.

Not only did you have to possess the skills to repair the machine, but you had to be customer facing, polite, patient, diplomatic, and a confidant, so a wide variety of talents were needed, some you could be taught, others came over time.

Blogs/Nigel Summerfield/nigel-summerfield-John-Deere-Combine-761x398-01.jpg (761 x 398) Image: Rea Valley Tractors

I started this journey as a teenager, taking everything apart that I could lay my hands on - much to the frustration of my parents. I did put things back together again and occasionally some of them worked after! But it was this fascination with things mechanical that left me wanting more and upon leaving school I joined a local Agricultural Machinery dealer as an apprentice technician. I had no farming background but if you wanted to be a mechanic upon leaving school you went to work in a car garage. This I didn’t want as I enjoyed being out and about and I figured that tractors being bigger would be easier to repair than cars! I was shown the ropes by experienced men, who had never been to college but learnt their trade the hard way, through experience, initiative and doing the job.
Certainly a far cry from today’s training-focused methods. I was enrolled in the local College of further Education and studied for my C&G Agricultural Mechanics Certificate, which I passed after two year’s block release, with a distinction.

I continued my apprenticeship for four years in total, and then progressed to Rycotewood College in Thame where I studied for a further 12 months to do my C&G Agricultural Technicians 030 II certificate, which I passed with credit. After my academic success it was back to the workshop, where the real learning started, putting the college theory into practice, drawing on all aspects of my training both in the field and in the workshop.

As an Agricultural Engineer you have to be an engine builder, transmission specialist, hydraulics expert, a vehicle electrician, an air con engineer, a welder/fabricator and a magician all at once! This wide variety of necessary skills is unique in our trade as most technicians are trained to do one or another, but to be master of them all is certainly a challenge, but a challenge there for the taking!

John Deere Tractors 5R Series
Image: Rea Valley Tractors

Add to this the critical timeliness of the weather and the need for machinery to be performing again reliably then you start to get a feel for the pressures involved at certain times of the year, especially at harvest or silaging time, when a very limited window of opportunity presents itself, the moisture content of the grain is at it’s optimum, heavy rain is looming and then the combine breaks down….

If you enjoy the great outdoors and like Engineering, and don’t mind hard work, then as a career it takes some beating. Often a career in agriculture can allow you to enjoy the rural lifestyle a lot of people crave for as you wouldn’t be part of the mass exodus to suburbia that seems to be happening at the moment. Obviously you need qualifications to be able to follow this dream. I entered the industry via an apprenticeship, but our industry is desperate for youngsters, both male and female, that have STEM qualifications, as most tractors and machinery have extensive electronics built in - and with precision farming becoming more acceptable - IT savvy people are in great demand. For old school people like me the IT aspect of the job is a constant struggle but youngsters seem far more able to absorb this technology quickly, but…above all you need enthusiasm and a fascination for machinery. You can then go out and enjoy the job!