Arkansas State University-Newport announced Thursday that the two-year college has been awarded an implementation grant for the project entitled “Northeast Arkansas Educating Agriculture Technology (EAT)." The grant, in the amount of $669,262 will be used to enhance the studies of agriculture, and develop a collaborative workforce training program to mitigate the skills gap for mid-level farm and food production workers.
Once implemented, the program will create an integrated educational pathway for regional workers that seek employment in farm management, seed and chemical industry management, crop consulting, or other agriculture related management fields.
“In addition to basic agronomy and plant science, our students will demonstrate knowledge in modern precision agriculture practice,” said Robert Summers, Dean for Applied Science at ASUN. “This will include Site Specific Crop Management, a data driven process for farm management. Students will understand and use Global Positioning System (GPS) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) systems that include auto steer technology and Variable Rate Technology for planting and spraying.”
“Advances in agricultural technologies have enabled tractors, combines, sprayers, and other farm equipment to gather data about soil and weather conditions, seed viability, topography, nutrients, disease history, row distance, planting depth, and other factors that influence crop yields,” Summers continued. “Individual farmers use this information about their fields to make decisions about what and when to plant, depth and spacing, and other farming practices.”
“As a farmer in Northeast Arkansas I am very happy to hear that a real need in our area might be filled in the future,” said Tommy Young of Generation Three Partnership Farms, and a member of the steering committee that helped guide the overall scope of the initiative. “That need being qualified, skilled agricultural workers being educated by ASU-Newport's new agricultural Associate Degree program. This will ensure we will have a qualified workforce for today and tomorrow's high-tech agriculture. Farming now is ultra-modern and precision agriculture is the norm. Without that, the economical margins are too thin to farm like your grandfather. I'm so happy that ASUN received the grant as this will enable us to have a sound longstanding program.”
In the project, ASU-Newport will partner will seven local high schools, including the Newport School District, Jackson County School District, Nettleton School District, Harrisburg School District, McCrory School District, Marked Tree School District and the Northeast Arkansas Career and Technical Center. ASU-Newport will also partner with Arkansas State University for students who wish to continue their education past the Associate Degree level.
“This grant will allow Arkansas State University-Newport and our partner institutions to develop an agriculture education program that will benefit the entire region,” said ASUN Chancellor Dr. Sandra Massey. “Students completing the program will enter the agriculture workforce with a skill set that will enhance their employability and allow them to earn higher wages. Employers will benefit from a workforce that is trained at the management level upon graduation.”
“I’d like to congratulate Mr. Summers and his staff for their efforts in helping ASU-Newport secure this grant,” added Massey. “They have worked countless hours to help craft a program that will not only benefit employers, but the agriculture workforce that is the backbone of an industry that affects our region, state and nation.”
Funds from the grant will be used at the high school level to emphasize Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines. Students studying in those programs may then advance to ASU-Newport for agriculture educational opportunities that lead to an Associate Degree. Students wishing to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in the field would then enroll at Arkansas State University for completion.
Arkansas State University-Newport will begin the implementation of the program in August 2017.