Northeast Community College agriculture program discussed at Senate sub-committee hearing
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nebraska U.S. Senator Deb Fischer’s recent visit to Northeast Community College proved beneficial as she shared her experience with colleagues as they discussed portions of the next farm bill before a Senate committee in Washington recently.
Fischer met with Ag industry leaders and representatives of Northeast Community College at the Acklie Family College Farm in Norfolk in November for a roundtable discussion on the future of precision agriculture and the technology necessary to maximize its effectiveness.
In remarks during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, Fischer spoke of how community colleges are playing an important and increasingly growing role in agriculture education and workforce training.
“For example at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, they have an associate degree in Precision Agriculture to train students on how to use, interpret and utilize precision agriculture technologies to improve production,” she said. “Northeast is also part of a multi-state coalition of community colleges that provide education, training and demonstrations to future farm producers. As part of this group of community colleges, Northeast also has an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide training and education and conservation.
Northeast is one of nine member institutions of the Community College Alliance for Agriculture Advancement (C2A3) which signed an MOU with NRCS in Sept. 2021 to develop a cooperative framework to enhance and accelerate training and adoption of technologies and best practices for improved agricultural productivity and natural resources stewardship.
Fischer asked Chavonda Jacobs-Young, undersecretary for research, education, and economics at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, how USDA could better partner with community colleges. She also inquired how community colleges like Northeast can help translate research into technical training.
“I see a huge role for community colleges,” Jacobs-Young said. “We are partnering with the community colleges and technical schools for meat and poultry processing, for example. So if we want to be local and regional systems, we need to have local and regional trained employees. And so it's been a right partnership for the community and technical colleges. Every, profession in agriculture doesn't require a four-year degree. So we really want to make sure that we capitalize on the strength of all the institutions that serve us.”
Northeast Community College initiated its precision agriculture program in 2016. Students develop technical skills to learn to interpret, analyze, and utilize data gathered from precision agriculture technologies to improve production. Graduates are employed as technicians and producers in a rapidly changing industry that is focused on maximizing yield potential through resource efficient practices.
Fischer also spoke during the hearing of a priority project for Nebraska - support for USDA’s co-located ARS (Agriculture Research Services) National Center for Resilience and Regenerative Precision Agriculture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She and other members of Nebraska’s congressional delegation sent a letter to Jacobs-Young recently that underscores the delegation’s support for the national center and their “strong commitment to secure federal funding for this essential ARS research facility.”
Jacobs-Young said USDA has emphasized the need for investments in infrastructure in such a project.
“Congress has been very generous to us. We've received over a billion dollars in investments for ARS facilities,” she said. “The beauty of that is we've been able to address seven co-located facilities at land-grant university campuses. We're in conversations with the University of Nebraska and we have plans for what we would do when properly resourced. … We just look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues there in Nebraska to make it a reality.”
In concluding her remarks at the hearing, Fischer said she would like to host Jacobs-Young at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as well as Northeast Community College in Norfolk to see “the really fabulous things they're doing there with precision agriculture. It is a very exciting time and it's a growing program for them that reaches out into rural areas of the state and the students that they're able to connect with and keep agriculture strong.”
“I would love to do that,” Jacobs-Young said.