Two new grants totaling approximately $3.3 million will help fund training in precision agriculture for veterans, the unemployed and people already working in the industry. The funds will be used by the Dakota Precision Ag Center, a public-private partnership based at Lake Region State College in Devils Lake, N.D.
"We’ve noted that dealerships—whether equipment dealerships, or fertilizer dealerships, or agricultural co-ops, particularly—often have to deploy their service personnel out on farms and fields in production," director Paul Gunderson says. "And when they do that, we’ve noted that their troubleshooting capability is deficient. … Some of that is due to the fact that many of their employees will be steeply trained in a rather narrow area of expertise."
To address those concerns, officials at the center have identified three focus areas:
- First, technicians need more basic computer knowledge, Gunderson says. That way, they will better understand how events such as solar flares can interfere with technology, for example.
- Second, more training in the area of 12- and 24-volt DC electronic feeds is needed. These electrical systems control panel displays in equipment such as combines, and an understanding of the machine’s alternator is often needed to fix problems such as a display malfunction.
- Third, technicians need customer-service training to quickly set farmers at ease and fix problems as quickly as possible.
A majority of the money—roughly $3 million—comes from the U.S. Department of Labor and will provide education starting in 2013 for recent veterans and people laid off because of outsourcing. While federal law stipulates that the money be used that way, Gunderson says, both categories of people are good workers who simply need additional education in agriculture. They also have skills needed in precision ag: A majority of veterans, for example, has already worked with GPS.
Gunderson also says the center wants to help the large number of veterans who have been returning from combat to live in the Dakotas, Montana and the surrounding area.
In addition, a grant totaling roughly $289,000 from the North Dakota Department of Commerce will help provide education in areas such as precision ag technologies and customer service for people employed with implement dealers, agronomy firms, farm operations and other areas.
Classes are in development. Training will be offered to people already working in agriculture by late August and to veterans and those whose jobs have been outsourced by December 2013.
Participants will undergo an assessment of skills and knowledge, allowing instructors to cater classes to meet their needs. They will visit the North Dakota center for a one-week boot camp and afterward train using a combination of online coursework; a mobile training lab that will visit multiple states; courses offered in collaboration with community colleges; and agricultural expositions and shows.
The center plans to ramp up its booth presence and adjacent topical training at Midwestern and High Plains agricultural venues stretching from the Texas panhandle to the Canadian border, west into eastern Colorado and east into Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota, Gunderson says.
Classes are open to anyone. More information about registration will be released as details are confirmed.