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John Deere Technician of the Year: ‘My blood is green’

The heart of Artie Bester of AFGRI, Bethlehem, very definitely pumps green.

This post is also available in: Afrikaans

“I care for my ‘things’ because I worked hard to get them,” says Johann Smith of Mispa Boerdery near Bethlehem. Among his “things” are 21 big John Deere machines and a comprehensive variety of valuable miniature collection pieces and toys.

“My blood is green,” says Johan, “because John Deere is the leader in agricultural technology, the quality of their green machines is high. They have excellent resale value, and the service delivery by AFGRI Bethlehem makes my blood run even a deeper green!”

It is not every anybody who is allowed to work on a John Deere on Johann’s pad. He is adamant that his tractors should be treated with respect. Artie Bester, recently nominated “John Deere Technician of the Year”, understands this. He regularly visits ‘oom’ Johann’s farm – not only when there is a problem, but sometimes just to enquire if there are any problems or say ‘hello’ in passing.

Before Artie, his father Japie Bester, used to do the same. “Our families have a long-standing friendship”, says Johann. On our way to the farm Artie warned the ProAgri team that we were to meet someone who cares for his equipment. “For example,” Artie said. “You do not park any tool on the nose weights of a tractor when working on the engine. It may scratch the paintwork.”

Johann’s labourers have to pass an excellent learning school of neatness and precision. No dust is tolerated in tractor cabins. The drivers know they have to wait until the dust has settled on the land before opening a cabin door to step out. When a worker has to perform a dirty chore outside the cabin, he first has to put on an overcoat and again takes off before climbing back.

The machines are serviced at the prescribed times, and even tractors with 6 000 work hours on the clock, look and sound as if they just came from the dealer’s showroom. Artie was recently appointed workshop manager of AFGRI Bethlehem. This left him with the difficult task of finding a successor for the technical work on the farm.

“Initially I thought he should choose a certain person, but then he decided otherwise,” says Johann. “And it is proving to be the best. We understand each other. It again shows that Artie also understands his farmers. He knows human nature well enough to make the correct decision. We are indeed privileged to have this winning technician in our part of the world.”

It is the second time that Artie gained the top award en the third time that he ended in the top three. JD Technicians from everywhere can participate in the competition. It consists of a written test to select the top fifty. A further written test determines the Top Ten. Then a full day follows at John Deere’s training centre in Boksburg, where the ten technicians then have to prove that they understand the full spectrum of John Deere’s technology, can do fault finding and then come up with the correct solutions.

“For me the most difficult part is the second written test,” says Artie. “Once you’ve been in the Top Ten, that test is a sort of make or break story…”

Johann Smith and Artie Bester with a sparklingly clean John Deere in the farmyard. Johann is painstakingly correct and fastidious when it comes to his John Deeres – big and small.

On our way to Helderfontein, the farm of André de Villiers, the farmer informs Artie that he has to arrive wearing his technician’s hat. He is harvesting wheat and the calibration of the combine has developed a problem.

“We are lucky. He said the combine is working next to the road. Our technicians lose a lot of time hunting between the lands for the equipment we have been called out for,” says Artie. “These Eastern Freestate farms are big and it is hilly country, making it difficult to spot the breakdown.

Today, with new technology installed in tractors and combines, it will be much easier to locate and repair the culprit – the JD Link transmits diagnostic information and GPS coordinates. With Artie busy in the combine cabin, André confirms that he will remain a John Deere adherent. “John Deere may not market the cheapest product, but it is a dependable product and technologically a leader.”

“The Bethlehem service centre is outstanding. I’m even more impressed when one of their service bakkies pulls in on my farmyard. It is always spick and span and is equipped with every tool that may be required. I will not like it when a technician arrives here in a rundown vehicle or loan tools to repair my equipment.”

André is proud of Artie’s achievement and the fact that he is now workshop manager. “He is a top mechanic and will be an excellent workshop manager,” says André.

“Artie communicates easily with the farmer and will always come back to enquire if a problem has been solved. He’s always interested.”

On Bethlehem’s doorstep Hein Knobel of the farm Versiend concurs: “I’m so glad that Artie has won again; also that he has been appointed workshop manager. He deserves it.”

Hein says a sound relationship between farmer and workshop is important and should be fostered from both sides – no shouting and gesticulating. “A continuous fight brings nobody anywhere. Even if a piece of equipment has the John Deere stamp, it remains a conglomerate of iron that can break,” says Hein.

He also welcomes all the new technology, such as JD Link, which makes managing of equipment so much easier regarding service periods and problem diagnosis before it leads to a breakdown. Artie enjoys telling the story of phoning a farmer to inform him that one of his operators tended to ride on the clutch. The embarrassed farmer confessed that he himself was the culprit; he was cultivating a piece of land full of ditches and gullies.

Hein thinks that, with all the technology, farmers are not even “bakkieboere” any longer – they have become computer screen addicts!

“But with ten top-qualified technicians at AFGRI Bethlehem, an able manager and three more men in training, we know we are in good hands. There is no time any longer to wait a week to have an implement repaired. We continuously work against time.”

Hein says some of his John Deere tractors have already worked for 30 000 hours and still have retained their value because they are serviced at regular intervals and handled carefully: “They are quality articles.”

Artie says he had not planned to become manager as early as now, but his predecessor was promoted and he simply decided it was time to take the bull by the horns. The workshop was also adjudicated “Workshop of the Year” and, with all Artie’s plans, it is clear that they intend to retain the title.

“I want to create a wall of screens that can be utilised for proper monitoring of farmers’ machinery and to help them (and us) to plan even better. I have also started to brighten up the working environment. A neat and friendly-decorated work area encourages enjoyable and better work.” Even the workshop bathrooms have been “greened!”

Artie says he fell in love with John Deere very early in life. He started working on the equipment and assisting his father as a youngster. Nowadays he is restoring his own veteran tractor – a John Deere . . . of course!

“My heart beats green. I can’t help but love the green team. – Artie Bester”

To join the green winning team and enjoy only the best service, contact your nearest John Deere dealer.

There’s a story behind this name-plate. It was a surprise present from the workshop because Johann had assisted them with a spare part from one of his own machines to be able to repair an implement of a fellow-farmer in an emergency.
“Come with me, Oom, and I’ll show you what the problem is with the calibration of that combine.”
André de Villiers is proud of Artie’s achievement, being named ‘Technician of the Year’ for a second time. Artie was born and bred in the region. He has now been promoted to workshop manager.
Hein Knobel and Artie Bester talking the hind leg off a donkey about matters close to their hearts. Sound communication abilities is important in the make-up of a successful technician.

The spic and span workshop of AFGRI Bethlehem even has “green” decorations in the bathroom.

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