Student eager for knowledge, skills to succeed

Agricultural machinery technician | Agronomy student learns how to grow crops and to keep equipment running

Next time your clutch is slipping, ask Katelyn Duncan about it.

The young farmer has wanted to learn the mechanical side of agriculture for years.

Now she can tear down an engine and put it back together with no missing pieces. When it’s running, she can visualize and hear its moving parts, understanding how they each work together.

“It’s the stuff I always wondered and wished I knew. Now I do,” said Duncan, who is enrolled in the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology’s 35-week agricultural machinery technician pre-employment program in Saskatoon.

It’s one more thing the 24-year-old can check off on her “to do” list as she prepares to one day run her own farm.

“I knew this (mechanics) was an area I was lacking,” she said, dressed in coveralls and leaning against an engine block.

“I want to be a producer. I want to be ahead of the game and ahead of the curve. I don’t want to be as good as everyone else. I want to be better.”

Duncan is the only woman taking the course this year and feels she gets along well in the male dominated environment. However, she knows she needs to earn respect of her fellow students while not being intimidated.

“I feel like I’ve got a lot of respect around here. These are 17- or 18-year-old boys. The majority of them wouldn’t say a word because they know that won’t fly…. They’re like my little brothers,” she said.

“Doesn’t matter if you have a degree. In the shop, it’s different. Can you take an engine apart or can’t you.”

Duncan has a lot on her plate. Be-sides the full-time course at SIAST, she is also completing her fourth year degree at the University of Saskatchewan’s agriculture college. Her thesis is studying the effects of Group 2 
tolerance on camelina.

She grew up on a large grain farm just south of Regina, which is so large and modern that it didn’t offer much opportunity to learn about mechanics beyond the occasional oil change or replacing a sprayer nozzle.

“I find coming from a farm that is fairly progressive and has pretty new equipment, I haven’t fixed much, and if we do, we call the dealership because it requires a laptop,” she said. “I think this kind of program will become a lot more popular for just the average farmer because you need to learn how to fix stuff and unless you’re out there on old machinery, you’re not going to learn it.”

Tim Coates, one of Duncan’s ag machinery instructors, said he appreciates her desire to learn new things with a goal in mind.

“Part of making her farm better is going through the university, taking the class there and taking the class here to ensure she is as good as she can be once she does go back to the farm,” he said

Coates agreed with Duncan’s approach of building her education base to eventually operate her own farm.

“She’s getting experience in how to grow crops better, how to be a better farmer, but she’s also getting experience on how to maintain the farm through our course. You don’t see a lot of people do both.”

If all goes according to plan, Duncan will graduate later this year as a certified agronomist along with her certificate as an agricultural machinery technician.

She admitted that switching gears between a university program and a technical college has forced her to fine-tune her time management skills.

“It’s different because this is hands-on learning,” she said.

“It’s very focused on ‘be here’ because if you miss it you’re not going to know what’s going on. With university, the notes are online. Nobody cares if you skip class. You’re your own individual and independent.”

Duncan is also a board member with the Saskatchewan Young Ag-Entrepreneurs and president of the Agriculture Student’s Association and the Ag Bizz Club, both at the U of S.

“I don’t like a day of sitting there and wasting it,” she said.

“If I’m going to do something relaxing or enjoyable that day, I make sure that I schedule it in and really use that day to relax.

“My dad always laughs at me and says that on my 22nd birthday, I looked at him and said, ‘I’m not getting any younger, you know.’

He just laughed because he’s like, ‘really?’ ”