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Clark State expands degree program in growing field

Frank Beafore, owner of SelectTech, works on a UAV Friday. Clark State adds to its ag precision program. Jeff Guerini/Staff
Frank Beafore, owner of SelectTech, works on a UAV Friday. Clark State adds to its ag precision program. Jeff Guerini/Staff

Clark State Community College will expand its precision agriculture department by adding a new degree and will host a workshop for high school teachers this month on the growing field.

The expansion shows the community college is focused on providing education that can impact many lives in the county and throughout the world, Professor and Coordinator of Precision Agriculture Larry Everett said.

“It’s a worldwide trend,” Everett said of precision agriculture. “In Ohio, we are a little bit behind than other states. Some states have been doing this for a while.”

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Agriculture contributes $105 billion to the Ohio economy and accounts for one in seven jobs in the state, according to the Ohio Farm Bureau.

Everett is also the director of the Ohio Center for Precision Agriculture. The new precision agriculture technology degree will give Clark State students more options to specialize in the industry, he said. The school now offers two degrees in precision agriculture, which uses technology such as unmanned aircraft and GPS to improve efficiency in areas such as planting, watering and fertilizer applications.

“What we are trying to do is to allow producers, anyone connected to agriculture, GPS technology to be able to manage each plant differently because each plant might had different needs,” he said.

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The community college will also host a workshop June 12 and 13 for high school agriculture and science, technology, engineering and math teachers. Teachers can receive a stipend for attending and will also be offered equipment that they can use to help teach their students.

The National Science Foundation awarded Clark State a more than $402,000 grant for precision ag technology projects, including the teachers workshop and equipment to later use in their classrooms.

It’s no secret precision agriculture is a growing field, Executive Director of SelecTech Geospatial Frank Beafour said. The Springfield-based company manufactures unmanned aircraft. He has worked closely with Clark State and said it’s important field.

“Precision ag is nothing new, we have been doing it for years and getting better and better,” he said.

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Right now tractors have the ability to drive themselves, Beafour said, and can locate areas of fields best suited for growing.

Technology continues to grow and become more complicated and the new two-year degree program aims at helping students understand that technology. Students are also offered an opportunity to learn soil science and other basic essentials of the industry.

“We don’t teach it all in a classroom,” Everett said. “We go through the basics but an awful lot of it is done in the laboratory or land laboratory. We have a pretty good network with other producers that students can go out and get hands-on experience.”

Many internships are available to students as well, he said, something students need to take advantage of to fully grasp the complexity of precision agriculture.

“Every business has a little different take on it,” Everett said. “They might specialize in one area or another so it kind of depends on each business and how they want to operate.”

A new business coming to Champaign County is Crop Production Services Inc. The business focuses on precision agriculture technology and how it can help farmers be more productive for their crops. Steve Emery of Crop Production Services Inc. said the field is ever expanding and a good choice for high school students looking for a career path.

“Farming today is heavily reliant on technology,” Emery said. “We rely on GPS for placement as it goes through the fields. Farmers are utilizing global positioning for when they plant their crops to give them better crop spans, to be able to place the seed in the right areas of fields.”

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By the numbers

120: Students currently studying agriculture at Clark State Community College

$105 billion: Amount agriculture contributes to the Ohio economy

$402,378: National Science Foundation grant to Clark State for precision ag program, including a local teachers workshop