Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo announced it received a $144,000 federal grant to expand its precision agriculture program and create a mobile lab it can send to area high schools.
The money came from a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that aims to encourage more students to pursue careers in agriculture.
“There are more jobs in agriculture than there are graduates nationwide,” said Jennifer Vandeburg, chair of Ivy Tech Kokomo region’s agriculture program.
There’s a push for skilled workers who can innovate and improve efficiency on farms as the world population rises and more food is needed, Vandeburg said.
“Agriculture has a big challenge ahead of it,” she said. “World population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The U.S. is a major bread basket for the rest of the world.”
That’s where precision agriculture comes in.
The field focuses on technologies that improve the effectiveness, efficiency and profitability of farm operations.
Precision agriculture uses GPS, visual sensors, automatic steering and sophisticated computer programs to provide site-customized management of farms. Farmers use technology to take in and analyze huge amounts of data to develop a site-specific prescription for successful farm operations, Vandeburg said.
Using precision agriculture techniques, farmers can determine the optimum number of plants for a particular site, the appropriate amount of fertilizer and water required and even tilling options to minimize soil erosion.
“Precision agriculture is an emerging career field,” Vandeburg said. “This grant money will allow us to increase the rate at which we develop our program.”
The federal grant will be matched with $75,000 from Ivy Tech.
The money will be used to expand course offerings at the college and add more equipment to the program. Ivy Tech has partnered with Daugherty’s Elite Ag Solutions division, based in Peru, to bring a “Green Sensor” system that can judge plant conditions and a Real Time Kinetic satellite navigation system to campus.
The most visible part of the project, though, is the mobile lab the college is creating. Officials are turning a 30-foot, enclosed trailer into a precision agriculture mobile lab that will travel around to area high schools.
It will give high school students a chance to learn about and experiment with technologies like GPS monitors, auto pilot and crop sprayers with variable rate applications.
Vandeburg said she hopes it will entice more high school students to study agriculture at Ivy Tech Kokomo. Right now, she has about 40 students in her program.
At the very least, it will show students what kind of agriculture careers are out there and debunk the myth that people who choose that major only become farmers.
It’s a STEM-related field, she said, that combines computer science, math, biology, plant science and pathology and chemistry.
“The project will allow Ivy Tech to bring the latest technologies to students from kindergarten through associate degree and help prepare those students to fill the many agriscience and agribusiness jobs of the future,” she said.
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at firstname.lastname@example.org