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Partnership Puts Latest Technology in Hands of Mitchell Tech Students

Friday, September 11, 2020

Mitchell Tech, C&B Operations come together to bring state-of-the-art equipment to campus

Written By: Erik Kaufman for the Mitchell Republic, September 10, 2020

As a group of state-of-the-art pieces of farm and construction equipment prepared to make their way down Ohlman and Spruce streets on their way to the Mitchell Technical College campus Thursday afternoon in Mitchell, Julie Brookbank had an exciting thought on her mind.

“Today is going to be eye-opening. We have 170 students in our ag-related programs, and the majority will be out there to see it and help move it,” Brookbank, vice president for advancement at Mitchell Tech, told the Mitchell Republic. “I’m looking forward to the ‘wow’ moment with the students, and our instructors are on a cloud.”

The procession of implements marked the fourth year of a partnership between Mitchell Technical College and C&B Operations in Mitchell that has seen C&B provide the school with farm and construction equipment to use in their agriculture, precision and diesel programs for the school year. The equipment made the journey from C&B to the Mitchell Technical College Nordby Trades Center and arrived to a large group of students and faculty.

The equipment, which is being provided on an extreme-low rental agreement with the school, includes eight tractors, a loader, a baler, a compact excavator, a skid steer, a high-capacity nutrient applicator, a pay loader, a combine with two heads, a sprayer and a Gator. The equipment’s total value comes to approximately $4.7 million.

But the value to the school, its programs and students, is even greater than that, Brookbank said.

“We have partnerships with a lot of companies who provide many different things, particularly in the ag area,” Brookbank said. “One of the places we always had a gap was in the availability of the kinds of equipment that our instructors could effectively educate our students on using, and letting them take it out in the field and get hands-on (with it).”

The partnership with C&B Operations has been particularly helpful in that regard. C&B encourages the school and its students to use the equipment in its operations. The combine and heads will be used to harvest at the school land lab, a tractor will be used to plant in the spring, and other pieces will be used in campus demonstrations, giving students and prospective students the chance to explore the machines and get experience operating them.

“We need industry partners to keep students up on this stuff. The technology has changed so much. If you had told me 48 years ago that we would be flying drones and driving tractors with satellites, I’d have told you you were crazy,” said Joe Brtna, an instructor with the Mitchell Tech diesel power program. “We’ve paired up with C&B and other industry partners like Case IH and Agco. We have to have their equipment to make it work.”

The value of the equipment provided by C&B Operations has grown since the fall of 2017 from $2.9 million to $4.7 million this year, Brookbank said. C&B Operations has donated around $600,000 in value with the rentals and other donations.

“We never would have had the budget for something like this. What C&B has done for us the last few years is pretty amazing. We couldn’t buy the smallest piece of equipment out here without their help, so we are very, very grateful for what they do for Mitchell Tech,” Jared Hofer, CFO for Mitchell Tech, told the assembled crowd when the equipment arrived on campus.

The timing of the delivery of this batch of equipment is also particularly helpful as the school gets back to in-person classes following the outbreak of COVID-19, which forced students and faculty into remote learning after its arrival earlier in 2020. Regular springtime activities were put on hold, and those first-year students at the time missed out on some of what would have been a traditional spring planting.

“From the student perspective, our (current) second-year students missed out on the spring outdoor programs because of COVID-19. They would have had a lot of their first experience in the spring using tractors for field planting and treatment. They missed out on that because we weren’t teaching on campus,” Brookbank said.

For C&B Operations, the partnership with Mitchell Tech makes sense.

“Something that C&B values is their people and our employees,” said Corey Thelen, store manager at C&B Operations in Mitchell. “(The partnership) helps us with recruiting and it helps us, just as employers, to have students seek interest in programs like those at Mitchell Tech. And once they come out of school they’re familiar with some of the newer technologies. We get a chance to show them the capabilities with what’s out there.”

Brookbank said the agriculture students won’t be the only ones to benefit from the new equipment. Equipment arriving on the Mitchell Tech campus this year includes a compact excavator and skid loader will be used by the school construction program. A wheel loader, tractor and a Gator will be used for jobs like grounds maintenance and snow removal.

“There are also some utility field pieces for the power line and natural gas technology program, and those will be put to use specifically in the utility field,” Brookbank said. “And a Gator and a smaller tractor can be used to remove snow. It’s just the whole gamut. This is going to be very meaningful.”

Students and instructors at the school will practice their skills with the equipment and then return it to C&B Operations at the end of the school year. School officials and C&B experts will consult each other on equipment operation, which will provide a kind of test run for the implements, allowing students to learn and the C&B team to diagnose issues when necessary. When the school year is over, C&B will be able to sell the low-hours implements to producers who will be able to buy with confidence, knowing the equipment has already been put through its paces.

“Some of this stuff is so new our techs haven’t even had their hands on it yet,” Thelen said.

Thelen said the work the students and instructors do on the equipment is both technical and methodical, and their gentle use of that equipment allows C&B to actually presell some of it to farmers who will take possession at a later date.

“We have them up for sale,” Thelen said. “(The students) are studying the systems, applying it, using it and utilizing it in that fashion. We’ve been able to pre-sell some of these pieces before the school is done with them.”

Thelen said equipment used by Mitchell Tech has been sold to producers as far away as Montana and Idaho.

It’s an arrangement that benefits everyone involved, from student to dealership to established farmer, Brookbank said.

“When you are working with people who are willing to experiment, you figure things out. How can we lose? How can the students lose? How can C&B lose?” Brookbank said.

C&B has been generous in allowing him to purchase the equipment and set up a partnership with Mitchell Tech, Thelen said. Thelen said he would also like to see the partnership continue into the future. The benefits are there for both parties, he said.

“I’m passionate about the learning side of it. I’d love to continue the tradition. As the store manager here, I’d love to make it work and continue it as a tradition,” Thelen said.

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