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Ivy Tech students prepare for the future of agriculture

December 9th, 2016

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Kelli Kreider hopes a mysterious glow emanating from new glass classrooms at Ivy Tech Community College – Northeast will draw enough attention among those passing it next fall to attract potential students who are as ambitious as they are curious.

The agricultural program chair and assistant professor looks forward to greeting visitors who will be eager to learn about technologies agriculture is rapidly adopting, technologies it will adopt soon and concepts that will drive the industry’s future innovation.

About 10 percent of America’s jobs are related to agriculture. The world’s population is growing and it has to find better ways to produce food.

As an educator, Kreider considers it her job “to help train people for careers that we don’t even know exist,” she said.

“Those careers are going to help feed our growing world,” she said.

She was sharing information about Ivy Tech’s agriculture program with members and supporters of Purdue University’s Cooperative Extension Service in Allen County during its annual business meeting Dec. 5.

The new classrooms she mentioned will be part of a 3,000-square-foot, $486,000 greenhouse project supported by contributions to Ivy Tech’s “Dream Big” capital campaign.

Agriculture majors will conduct soil and plant experiments in the greenhouse and become acquainted with highly efficient hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic food production systems. Culinary arts majors will incorporate produce grown there into classroom cooking assignments.

“I talk about growing things in water, hydroponics, or raising fish, the aquaculture, and combining the two, aquaponics, and we’ll have all of that,” Kreider said. “The neat concept with that is we’re growing large amounts of food in very small spaces, which is what you cannot do with your typical, out-in-a-field corn and soybeans.”

In addition to familiarizing students with approaches to food production that could become more important as they develop their careers, learning about ways to produce food more efficiently could help inspire agricultural innovation and entrepreneurship in the region, she said.

The greenhouse facility will be a large expansion of a small experimental and educational space the program is using now. In addition to bringing new resources and capabilities to the program, it will provide the room needed to accommodate more students.

The program Kreider started with seven students in the fall of 2013 saw its first nine graduates last spring. With 60 students enrolled in the agriculture program, 11 are on track to graduate from it next spring.

About 20 percent of the program’s 60 students plan to farm eventually, and the rest are preparing for careers in various sectors of agribusiness, she said.

“They may be selling seed, they may be doing crop insurance, they may be doing financial work,” Kreider said. “They may be doing consulting. They may work for a seed company but not necessarily in sales. The majority of my students are your non-traditional ag students. They may come from 4-H, FFA or they took agriculture in high school. They didn’t grow up on a farm, but they’re passionate about the ag industry.

“We keep looking for opportunities, where can they be placed, and that’s where the careers are at, to be honest with you. There’s so many (agribusiness) careers out there looking for talented people, there’s not enough students.”

Kreider works with a variety of agribusinesses in northeast Indiana to determine their workforce needs and customizes some of the courses to help them address skill gaps, she said.

Another part of her work involves helping farmers in the region adopt technologies that are gaining importance in the industry, such as farming analytics and detailed GPS field mapping with soil, seed, input and yield data for site-specific farming.

There also will be opportunities to collaborate with agribusinesses in the region on agricultural research projects at the greenhouse, Kreider said.

Ivy Tech plans to have the new facility open next summer or fall.