Showing students ag’s future
By KAREN SCHWALLER
CALUMET – They saw, they touched and they wondered.
More than 300 students from 19 Northwest Iowa high school ag and FFA programs made the trip to the Northwest Research Farm near Calumet from Sept. 2 through Sept. 5 to attend Precision Ag Days, sponsored by Iowa State University Extension.
It was a half-day devoted to give ag students hands-on experience and to gain practical knowledge in precision agriculture and applications for production systems.
Tyler Schiltz, a senior at Remsen St. Mary’s High School, said these areas of technology were new to him.
“I liked seeing all the new stuff coming out,” said Schiltz, who lives on a farm near Remsen. “Everything is advancing so fast.
“It’s been cool to see my dad growing into all of this technology in its early stages, and now I’m growing up into it, too.”
He said he especially enjoyed the crop sensor education and learning about global positioning systems in tractors.
Beth Bunkers, program coordinator for O’Brien County Extension, said the project showed youths there are endless opportunities in agricultural careers available to them in Iowa.
“We wanted to give kids a reason to come back after high school graduation or college and show them there is opportunity here,” Bunkers said.
Students learned about various agricultural technologies including auto steer, auto-swathing, global positioning systems, remote crop sensing, precision planting, soil sampling, seed genetics and rainfall apps.
Cindy Cleveringa, youth coordinator for Sioux County Extension, said this was the project’s first year to see if anyone was interested.
The answer was a resounding “yes.”
Cleveringa and Bunkers outlined ag opportunities for young people, and contacted ag companies to get involved in a first-time effort to show precision agriculture to the next generation of agribusiness people.
“No one said, ‘No,'” Bunkers said. “We formed quite a few business partners with this first-time event.”
Bunkers said organizers learned that there is a worldwide soil sampling business headquartered out of Calumet.
“It’s one of the largest soil sampling companies in the world, and we didn’t even know it was here,” Cleveringa said. “We got to thinking that if we didn’t know it was here, the kids probably didn’t know it either.”
Cleveringa said they decided to center around cutting-edge technology, because that’s where agriculture is headed.
Each day’s event ended with speakers from colleges and universities presenting on career opportunities in a growing field of agriculture.
These included Dr. John Lawrence, associate dean of the college of ag and life science at ISU; Michelle Peters, of Ocheyedan; Mike Schouten, of Dordt College’s college of agriculture; and Kevin Butt, head of the precision ag department at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls.
Cleveringa said agriculture needs a skilled work force on the farm and where farming is not an option.
“There are all kinds of things you can do in agriculture,” Bunkers said, “and you can come back here and do when you’re finished with high school or college.
“We wanted to show them that it’s not just an exciting career, it’s vital. We have to feed the world.”
Bunkers said just 2 percent of the world’s population are farmers.
Cleveringa said agriculture workers will need to keep up with technology in a fast-changing environment, and that not all students take the same path at the same time.
The success of this first-time event has led the women to consider scheduling an animal science event in the spring.
Tayler Weber, a freshman at Sheldon High School, participated in the GPS station, along with auto-swathing, precision planting and remote crop sensing.
“It’s interesting to see how all the technology works and how things are made,” she said. “I’ve learned how GPS works and how it’s used.
“Technology can sense what’s done and how much is left to do.”
Gene Bomgaars, ag advisor at Sheldon High School, said the hands-on part of the day was invaluable.
“The concept of giving the kids this experience on a research farm and giving them hands-on opportunities to utilize in today’s agriculture is a huge benefit for the kids,” he said.
Brian Gottlob, ag advisor for Sibley-Ocheyedan High School, said he appreciated the exposure of his students to advanced technology that is too expensive to purchase for a high school ag program.
“It’s great to see students talking to people in the ag community about their programs, preparing them for careers, and giving them a chance to see how they can use this information,” he said. “The (crop sensor) station was cutting-edge.”
Butt told ag and FFA students their future in agriculture careers is promising.
“Now is one of the most exciting times to be involved in agriculture,” he said. “There is a huge need for precision agriculture workers now, whether it be service, crops, pharmaceutical consulting – there’s a broad range of areas to look at in agriculture.”
Butt said his supervisory experience at Ellsworth Community College – one of only two community colleges in Iowa with two-year degrees available in precision agriculture – is that for every one student he sees graduate from that program, there are seven business people contacting him, wanting workers in that area.
“They’re calling us a year in advance, looking for students graduating with degrees in precision agriculture, and it’s going to get even more intense in the future,” Butt said.
He noted the world’s population growing to 9 billion by 2050.
“With only 2 percent of the world population farming, it’s going to take a lot of precision agriculture to be able to feed, clothe and fuel them all,” he said. “Some of you will probably be graduating in a few years with a degree that does not even exist yet.
“I’m seeing it happening already.”
Business partners for the day included Ellsworth Community College, Ag Partners and Ag Leader planters; ICON with John Deere planters, Bunkers Feed and Supply with Monsanto Precision planters, Midwest Independent Soil LLC; Climate Corporation, Josh Sievers, with ISU Research Farm with remote crop sensing information, and Syngenta Seed Genetics.
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