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Iowa Central: Looking to the future

Agricultural Technology program grows

-File photo
Brandon Benshoter, seed district sales manager associate for Winfield United, talks with some Iowa Central Community College ag students during an ag career day held last fall. Field days are one example of hands on learning opportunities the students get to experience.

Whether it be advances in precision agriculture, animal science, crop production or other educational areas within the realm of agriculture, professors Mike Richards and Mike Robertson with Iowa Central Community College’s agricultural technology program are doing what it takes to keep their courses up-to-date within the ever advancing industry.

“One of the areas we have tried to really expand is precision ag,” said Richards. “As part of precision ag that would be new technologies such as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and we are also working with doing quite a bit more with planter demonstration stands to where the students would be able to install and set up a planter unit in the classroom with some of the newest technologies, like hydraulic down pressure, pneumatic row cleaners and speed.”

Student Tyler Rice has been working to gain more experience in the field of precision agriculture.

“I have already taken the first part of the precision class where there is a lot of monitor work, working with data — a lot of computer based stuff and now I am getting into more of the advanced GPS precision,” he said. “We are working on planter units and things that are actually used with the heart of the equipment rather than the internet side of things. It’s what I hope to do in the future.”

Richards believes both technical support and sales support need to be part of the curriculum.

-Photo by Kriss Nelson
Mike Richards, agriculture technology professor at Iowa Central, explains the different growth stages of the corn plant inside the college’s greenhouse recently.

“I see the increased need for support and sales in those areas,” he said. “The technology part is going to continue to grow and increase. I think it’s important to try and provide our students, at least, some basic understanding of the technologies out there — how they can be incorporated to a farming operation or as part of one’s career path and then how to integrate that along with the customer service part of it. Besides just the hardware, data management is becoming a big piece too. We collect all of this information, so what decisions do we make based off of the data that has been collected?”

Richards said Iowa Central continues to help their students with the experience necessary to become more employable — especially in the field of customer application.

“The applicator’s positions are plentiful out there and I think what we are hearing from the industry is what can we do to provide the skills necessary for students to be employable?” he said. “That is one career path, I think there is a big demand, so we offer an integrated pest management class where they get their commercial pesticide applicator’s license. We continue to explore about the big piece that is missing, and that is, from an employer’s standpoint, is finding qualified applicators that have some experience at all in running a sprayer or applicator.”

Other areas of growth Richards sees within the agricultural industry that they put emphasis on in the Iowa Central’s Agricultural Technology program are agronomy and ag sales.

“I think ag sales would be another subject, that when you look at opportunities, I think agronomy, sales and precision – they all tie together,” Richards said. “Most of them, if they are going to go to work with a cooperative or seed company, they need to now agronomics, they need to know some precision and they need to have the communication skills learned through sales.”

Ag lending and commodity marketing are also big facets to the agricultural industry that is addressed in the college’s program.

Student Mariah Tasler has been showing an interest of a career focused on commodity markets.

“I’m going to see how my internship goes this summer to see if I actually like it,” she said. “If I don’t, I may go a different direction.”

Future of Iowa Central’s agricultural technology program

Richards said when it comes to what needs to be done to best serve his students, it comes from the standpoint of providing them with the skills and opportunities necessary.

“I think, for me, there needs to be an increased focus on continuing to enhance the hands-on learning such as in agronomy, precision and pest management,” he said. “We incorporate field trips, we have a greenhouse. For example, this semester is going to be geared towards growth stages of crops, identification of forages and cover crops and then a little bit geared towards applying some different technologies, agronomically, into a farming system.”

Dalton Kollbaum, a student in the agricultural technology program at Iowa Central said he enjoys getting out of the classroom and into the greenhouse.

“We learn in the classroom about the different growth stages, but then we actually get to go out into the greenhouse,” Kollbaum said. “Mr. Richards points out and asks us which growth stages they are at and quizzes us so we can actually see where they are at instead of looking at the slide show.”

Student Skylar Bruning also enjoys the hands-on opportunities.

“The hands-on learning is a lot better than looking at a slide show,” he said. “Mr. Richards usually goes in depth a little bit more.”

Bruning added, “Students really would like more hands-on, and I know these guys would all say they would like to have even more, so I think we have to continue to focus on that. To a point, you sill have to teach in the classroom, but I can agree, I learn more from getting my hands dirty and doing it. I think that’s a big one as far as growth in our program.”

Making changes to the program may not necessarily mean different course offerings.

“I think we need to be proactive and continue to explore, it could result in different courses, but also just continue to stay abreast with the current changes that are taking place,” he said.

One new change for next year, Richards said is each student will have a new “Surface Go” device.

“We are going one to one next year with the students,” he said. “Every student will have a device. That will have its advantages as well to where if we are in a class and we don’t have access to the computer lab, they can pull out their device right there.”

An area where Richards said he would like to see the agricultural technology program at Iowa Central branch out and grow is in the area of animal science.

“We have had some conversations there as far as the future and where that could go,” he said. “I think that’s exciting. There is some potential growth there.”