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Precision ag — not just for farm kids

At Penn State’s ‘Plant Yourself in Agriculture” field day, 280 high-schoolers discovered that agriculture isn’t just for farm kids. Solid precision ag career opportunities await.

Lift off a drone. Power up onboard computer modems. Click on autoguidance. Then, you’ve captured the fascination of every teenager — farm kid or not.

Penn State University’s College of Ag Sciences did exactly that during a mid-April “Plant Yourself in Agriculture” field day. Many teachable moments occurred with the volunteer help of 23 ag professionals and nearly $4 million of ag equipment on loan from eight companies.

Some 280 central Pennsylvania high-school ag technology students from seven school districts were “blown away” by career opportunities in the demonstrated precision ag technologies. Even 50-degree cold rains driven by 40-plus mph wind gusts failed to chill their youthful exuberance at the Ag Progress Days site near Rock Springs, Pa.

Running four GPS-guided tractors, one sprayer and one chopper from the comfort of cabs loaded with ag technologies clearly “heated” student interest — just as the organizers planned. Students were split into small groups and rotated through eight stations. Those stations included:
• sprayer technologies
• GPS-guided autosteer (tractors, sprayer and chopper)
• planting “green” and manure injection
• drone ag tech applications
• new seed technologies
• technologies revolutionizing livestock
• cellphone apps for tracking crop progress
• career opportunities

Thanks to those professionals from eight ag companies, Penn State University and USDA, this two-day precision ag event was a mind-opening hit, confirmed Corey Dillon, lead organizer and manager of Penn State’s entomology and horticulture research farms. “Our goal was to introduce cutting-edge ag tech to farm and nonfarm students, and make them aware of the high-paying jobs in demand today and beyond.”

Mission accomplished. Less than half of the students from area private and public schools were farm raised.

Take-home lessons
While Paul Heasley, ag teacher at State College, kept a tight rein on his students, he also had them reflect on what they liked most and what gave them the most insights into ag technologies. “Of course, most liked the GPS-guided tractors, sprayer and chopper.

“Two days later, we had great discussions in all of my classes. Most weren’t aware of the technologies or the scope of careers in supportive agriculture.”

One student acknowledged that precision technology now used on farms is more technical and environmentally friendly than he thought. Another added: "The application of all of the sciences to very specific plant production makes me consider taking sciences and mathematics in school."

Dillon called the event a landslide success thanks to all those involved — one that bears repeating. The sponsors included Channel, Growmark FS, Helena, John Deere, Mycogen, TeeJet, Utz and Valley Ag & Turf.

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