The Dakota Precision Ag Center has been awarded two grants totaling $3.28 million for the development of training programs in precision agriculture.
DPAC, located on the campus of the Lake Region State College campus in Devils Lake, N.D. , will develop the programs to help fill in-demand jobs requiring high skill level in precision ag technologies and enhance current workplace training at North Dakota agribusinesses and implement dealers.
Precision ag includes remote sensing or GPS; soil and grid sampling; and information management tools.
"There's an accelerating rate of adoption and use of precision ag technologies in the High Plains," says Paul Gunderson, director of DPAC explains. "The dilemma is that we need more people who can provide service for these technologies. Currently nationwide there are 8,000 unfilled positions requiring knowledge in precision ag but not enough people with the right skillsets to fill those openings."
One of the grants comes from the U.S. Department of Labor. The grant's $2.99 million will fund training to recent veterans or workers who are currently unemployed due to foreign trade. Participants will undergo assessments to determine individual skills, engage in an array of training activities based on their assessments and complete three-month internships. DPAC plans to provide training through this program from Minnesota to Wyoming.
The North Dakota Department of Commerce's grant for $288,600 will provide additional education for workers already employed in agriculture. Employees of implement dealers, agronomy firms, farm operations and other agribusinesses across the state will receive training in computer technology, customer service, precision ag technologies and DC electronics.
"Equipment and software companies provide education for their own products, but what I heard from agribusinesses across the state was that their employees needed more education on how to integrate different types of technologies," says Gunderson. "They also desired more focus on customer relations, since employees spend a lot of time one-on-one with customers on their farms and fields."
The Department of Commerce's grant required matching funds from partner companies. Several organizations have committed to provide equipment, software and expertise.
Gunderson says that DPAC is beginning plans to build an extensive team to provide training and to develop curricula made possible by the two grants. The programs will start in 2013. Future announcements will be made when enrollment opens.