As Kansas agriculture continues to adapt to modern technologies that are making farmers more efficient, a partnership between Northwest Kansas Technical College in Goodland and Servi-Tech, Inc., in Dodge City is preparing students to fill needed leadership roles.
“We just got the precision agriculture program off the ground about two years ago,” says Weston McCary, director of the program at Northwest Tech. McCary taught the subject previously in Colorado, and when he was approached by Northwest Tech about starting a program in Kansas, he emphasized its importance from a competitive standpoint.
“I told the board of directors that this is what’s being utilized in the industry right now, and it’s not being taught. We were going to lose our competitive edge if we didn’t start teaching it,” he says. “The idea picked up momentum, and the industry and town really rallied around it. I spent a lot of time networking with the industry and asking them what they needed.”
What the industry needed was support personnel who could not only demonstrate how to use the GPS systems in tractors, but also how to map the soil, use technology to make irrigation more efficient and facilitate many other technological adoptions. Servi- Tech was the perfect partner to help Northwest Tech students become that support.
As the largest crop-consulting firm in the country, Servi-Tech focuses on three main areas: agronomists who consult farmers throughout the midwest collectively on about 1 million acres; agricultural laboratories that evaluate soil and tissue samples for fertility work, as well as feed testing; and precision agriculture and technology services including everything from aerial imagery to soil-moisture-management products.
“We see tremendous growth, especially in precision agriculture, and think those three pieces fit nicely together,” says Greg Ruehle, president and CEO of Servi-Tech.
Though the alliance is still new, McCary says Northwest Tech teamed up with Servi-Tech because he knew the firm would be a great partner.
“Only companies like Servi-Tech or larger really have an idea of how big the ag industry is,” McCary says. “They have agronomists, field technicians, labs, people collecting digital field data and more, and you look at it as all-encompassing. Growers are coming to realize that they need all of these things, but there’s not a one-stop shop for it. Servi-Tech does it all under one roof.”
He goes on to explain that when students come into the program, they’re completely enlightened to the expanse of what’s involved in precision agriculture, and Servi-Tech is a great company that provides hands-on experience.
“We’re trying to be a feeder program for the company, and the goal is that next year, we have two or three students go work for Servi-Tech in the summer,” McCary says.
Ruehle agrees, and says that the partnership will be beneficial to Servi-Tech by offering a pool of talented individuals for their company. He also hopes they’ll have the opportunity to help develop the curriculum at the school and support the work they’re doing in precision agriculture.
“I think the industry is starting to see that we have a bigger role to play to make sure these programs are well-funded and -staffed,” Ruehle says. “It’s an opportunity for us to access well-trained students, but we also have a responsibility to help support educational components.”
Both McCary and Ruehle agree that the opportunities presented at Northwest Tech and through Servi-Tech will help strengthen Kansas agriculture, offering innovative career paths close to home.
“We think there’s going to be great paybacks and dividends to working in a more local setting and benefiting kids who can pursue their passions, but do it closer to home,” Ruehle says.
Servi-Tech Supports Midwestern Agriculture in Three Main Focuses:
- Agricultural laboratories
- Crop consulting
- Precision agriculture
Students who complete the Precision Agriculture program at Northwest Tech go on to have successful careers in many fields including:
- Agronomy technician
- Crop consultant
- High-tech crop producer
- Tractor guidance specialist
- UAV operator
Source: Northwest Kansas Technical College