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Students Gain Hands-on Experience Through Precision Ag Collaboration

MITCHELL, September 15, 2023— For the second year in a row, Mitchell Technical College is partnering with one of the region’s largest precision agriculture companies to bring hands-on, state-of-the-art opportunities to students.

Thirty-three first- and second-year Precision Agriculture students all had their hands on a 24-row planter build last year, with the bar for a second planter delivered this summer. Utilizing the precision technologies used at the Innovation Center, Agtegra provided Mitchell Tech with the materials needed to build the planter. Students equipped the planter with a Precision Ready 9000 series row unit, hydraulic hoses, vacuum fans, Yetter SharkTooth Row Cleaners with Residue Commander, vApply Base In-Furrow Starter System and Precision Planting products DeltaForce (automated downforce control system), FurrowForce (closing system) and vSet2 with vDrive (seed meter with electric drive system).

The partnership is “priceless for us,” MTC Precision Ag Program Director Devon Russell said. “This is a real-world project that Agtegra’s Innovation Centers do regularly, so if our students go directly into the precision ag field, they’ll be a step ahead of everyone else because of this experience.”

Mitchell Tech students chartered a bus to Agtegra’s Innovation Center in Huron to kick off the project with a tour of the company’s facility and shared in their customer appreciation meal last fall. Team members from the cooperative’s Innovation Center then journeyed to Mitchell routinely to work with Russell and his students on the project.

The idea for partnership came during an advisory board meeting, when Russell and Agtegra Huron Agronomy and Innovation Center Location Manager Joe Airheart began discussing bringing students to Huron for a day.

Russell “was always wanting to come up here, which is great, but it’s kind of a small opportunity for them to be able to see it, touch it, be a part of it, so this opened that up to give your students more of an opportunity to know what they want to go into, going into the workforce – especially with that broad term ‘precision,’” Airheart said.

Having Agtegra staff stay involved in the full project was important to the cooperative.

“We wanted to be there through the coaching, especially since this is new to pretty much everyone there,” Airheart said. “It’s a time commitment on our part, but we are glad to be there through the whole process, from start to finish and” ensure that all quality expectations are met. “We wanted to be a part of it because, at the end of the day, it’s still Agtegra’s name that’s on it, so we wanted to take part of the ownership.”

Airheart said he was confident the students and leadership in the Precision Ag program would pair well with the expectations he and his crew had for their brand.

“Most of my crew has an affiliation with MTC, and they were all pretty excited to go back and work with the students,” Airheart said, adding that six employees from the Huron location have spent time on the local campus. “(Nearly) all of our guys are from Mitchell Tech. We have high-quality employees and interns who came out of there.”

Those ties made the decision to partner with Mitchell Tech easy.

“I’ve gotten really lucky with the candidates coming out of Mitchell Tech. All of them come out ready to work, and they seem to have some experience with it, and … it seems they’re ready to hit the field a little faster than maybe some of the other students that we’ve gotten from other places,” said Airheart, who has served on the MTC Precision Ag Advisory Board for the past eight years.

Mitchell Tech’s commitment to the future of the ag industry confirmed the decision, according to Airheart, noting the current Ag Power Diesel Building project.

“Not every school is going to be able to do this like you guys are capable of doing it,” he said. “You guys were working on the facility and the infrastructure. Mitchell Tech just made sense.”

The partnership is a good opportunity for Agtegra and the students to consider whether working together in the future is advantageous.

“It gives us a head start on some of the better candidates among the graduates. I also feel that the more hands-on experience the students can have going forward before they go helps them,” Airheart said. “‘Precision ag’ is such a broad term. The geospatial stuff and the drones are part of it, but this is the other part of it. It’s the hardware side of it and stuff that we specialize in.”

Students who worked on last year’s planter said they appreciated the skills they have learned in the process. Carter Robertson is excited to use these skills on his family farm, located near Parker, South Dakota.

“My favorite part about the planter project is seeing how fast something like this can be put together when you have a whole classroom working on it,” he said. “All the trades I’ve been learning at school will get me ready for troubleshooting in the field and on the farm.”

The planter build has helped equip students planning to farm after graduation with insight on how they can implement technology back home.

“My favorite part about the project has been getting to put together a planter from scratch and seeing how the Precision Planting technologies work together,” Kaden Klumb of Ethan said.

Russell said the project enhances students’ employability with other precision ag leaders, too.

“Being able to build a planter from start to finish provides an excellent opportunity for students to deeply engage with the technology that powers the implement,” he said. “The knowledge they gain from working with precision planting components will not only apply to this specific context but will also be applicable to all agricultural original equipment manufacturers.”

“Being able to build the planter and see how it all works, a can bus (isn’t) universal, but if you can understand one can bus network, you can really understand any Case, Deere” or other implement, he said. “The can buses all work very similarly. If you know how to do it on one, it’s easier to adapt to another.”

Trevor McKown, a representative of Precision Planting, manufacturer of several components the students installed, said the partnership benefits his company, too.

“Our dealers need folks who can sell, who can help the farmers, who can troubleshoot and work on it. Every one of my dealers is looking for employees, so when students can basically get that training to move right into the workforce and work alongside professionals and see how it works, it makes it a lot easier to get folks hired,” he said.

Agtegra delivered the second planter this summer, and Russell said his students are ready to get to work on it, with Airheart and his team scheduled to be in the classroom after students complete their fall harvest.


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