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October 9, 2013

Ivy Tech gets $144K to expand ag program

Grant will be used at Kokomo campus to add classes, equipment and mobile lab.

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.

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