Parkland’s ag program preparing future industry leaders thanks to million-dollar upgrade

Parkland’s ag program preparing future industry leaders thanks to million-dollar upgrade

CHAMPAIGN — Parkland College has invested $1 million to establish the Midwest Center for Precision Agriculture.

Parkland’s ag program director, Jenni Fridgen, hopes the center will help connect the industry to potential employees.

She said the center will develop curricula with the help of the precision ag industry that can be used by other schools.

“We’re using the industry to drive our education, and we’re using it to drive curriculum development for precision ag,” Fridgen said. 

With precision ag, farmers are able to combine the sensors in their planters with GPS to map where every seed in their field is planted, and they can plant seeds within inches of where they were planted the previous year.

Newer equipment lets farmers automatically plant different seed hybrids at different elevations, depending on which grows best, for example.

But more than 62 percent of precision ag companies have trouble finding students with background in the industry, according to a 2017 CropLife Magazine Precision Agriculture Dealership survey.

“I get phone calls all the time from people in the industry looking for students,” Fridgen said. “What we’re trying to do is hit some of these students early and say, ‘This is a viable career.’”

That’s why Parkland has been offering a dual-enrollment high school class in precision ag.

The online class is available to a network of schools across the Midwest.

“It’s an intro course designed for students who don’t know what it is and are thinking about their career and not sure what they want,” Fridgen said. “Of students that have taken the course, almost 50 percent want to come to Parkland. It’s been very successful for us as a pipeline of getting students interested in ag or going to other schools.”

With classes like this, and as one of the only community colleges in Illinois with a precision ag degree, Parkland wants to become a resource for other schools and the industry.

Fridgen envisions the Midwest Center for Precision Ag offering continuing education for farmers, too.

“We can come in and offer some basic training for them on how to use this technology,” she said. 

The $1 million will help fund a physical expansion of the precision ag space at Parkland’s Tony Noel Agricultural Applications Center, including the addition of a couple more classrooms, Fridgen said.

“This center is going to be more robust than just the two-year education we have now,” she said. 

 

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