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At ICCC—New ag teacher adds value to courses

By Staff | Mar 6, 2009

Mike Richards

The newest ag instructor to arrive at Iowa Central Community College this year said he is using his working experiences outside the college campus to add value to the ag courses he teaches on campus.

Mike Richards arrived at his office in room 136 in the vo-tech building just seven days ahead of the start of the fall term last September. He found a curriculum waiting in place for him, but he set out to expand the students’ experiences and career-planning skills.

He and select students “did the legwork” last fall researching what was needed and the planning required in starting a vineyard.

Grape growing, marketing and processing is one of the fastest-growing ag enterprises in Iowa.

“We couldn’t get (the vineyard) planted last fall before it got too cold,” Richards said, ” but we are looking at this spring.” The original plan was to start the vineyard on the 253-acre farm the college leases from Webster County. However, Richards thinks it might be better to start with a small number of vines and trellises on campus.

The Northwest Missouri State graduate and rural Lohrville native said the course may benefit more by starting small and working up to a larger vineyard, probably at the farm and, eventually, begin making its own wine.

“It was a good experience for them (students) to do the research,” Richards said. “They discovered that a lot of information is needed in starting a vineyard.

“I’m a hands-on person, so I want them to do more projects.”

Another new development down the road may be planting and marketing aronia, or choke berries, a juice berry native to Iowa with higher antioxidant qualities than grape juice.

He also had students plan their own value-added business models. Students came up with businesses and marketing plans for designing a new type of saddle horn for rodeo riders, another who makes household decorations using old horseshoes, another developed a custom soybean rolling service and another with developing a horse-training facility.

Richards is also tasked with teaching soils and said he is interested in learning to use Webster County’s new soil survey software to help his agronomy students with assessing the soil types on the farm. He is also hoping to build anew greenhouse for his soils classes.

Precision farming is a growing buzzword in farming circles and Richards wants ICCC to introduce ag students to it and practice it.

“Farmers want it,” Richards said, “and implement dealers are looking for knowledgeable people for (equipment) sales.”

Richards is a former ag instructor at the Clarion-Goldfield school system and has also worked as a field representative for Pioneer Seeds in Churdan and Paton. He said that his experiences in production agriculture, teaching and sales give him a valuable perspective of agriculture that he brings to the classroom.

“I can share real-world experiences with anything the students may encounter in the classroom,” he said.

He said he intends to incorporate real-world commodity trading in his classes with competitions among students using online simulation programs such as cashgrainbids.com. Students would trade in corn, soybeans, lean hogs and feeder cattle.

In addition, he’s hoping to form a college-level FFA-like group, through what is called the National Postsecondary Agricultural Student Organization.

Contact Larry Kershner by e-mail at editor@farm-news.com.

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