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Ag education interest on the rise

Agriculture-related education continues to expand in South Dakota, and local enrollment numbers have responded in kind. Mitchell Technical Institute has seen it's ag-related program enrollment more than triple in the past five years while adding ...

Agriculture-related education continues to expand in South Dakota, and local enrollment numbers have responded in kind.

Mitchell Technical Institute has seen it's ag-related program enrollment more than triple in the past five years while adding three new agriculture programs.

South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch highlighted the importance of expanding agriculture education in the state.

"Because agriculture is such a huge part of South Dakota's statewide economy, agriculture programs are essential to providing the latest information to the workforce," Lentsch said. "The demand for knowledgeable, highly trained workers both on and off the farm continues to grow."

MTI is helping to fill that demand with the help of Lori Repenning, an instructor in MTI's most popular ag-related program. Repenning teaches animal science, reproduction, livestock disease and nutrition courses within the Agriculture Technology program, which reached 79 students in the 2015-16 school year.

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Repenning, an instructor at MTI since 2012, attributed increased interest in MTI's agriculture programs to the tech school's distinct and precise curriculum.

"I think we're growing and I think the kids are getting a great education," Repenning said. "(It's) very targeted, or more specific, than a four-year degree as far as learning the things important to use right off the bat."

The Agriculture Technology program, the school's first ag-related offering, provides its students with an wide variety of courses including animal nutrition, livestock diseases and soil science. But Repenning said it's the hands-on experience offered in modern agriculture education courses at MTI that set the school apart.

"A lot of what kids learn and retain is something they got to do versus something they got to read," Repenning said.

Two features of MTI's Agriculture Technology course that provide the hands-on experience are the land and animal labs available to students.

At the land lab, students have the opportunity to work on an 85-acre patch of land near Mitchell to manage crops and expose them to precision agriculture technologies. At the animal lab, students are able to interact with cattle from birth and learn how to manage a beef herd.

Another major advantage of the modern ag-education program, according to Repenning, is the emphasis on finances. The Agriculture Technology curriculum includes courses on commodity marketing, farm accounting, ag finance and fundamentals of insurance.

She also noted the importance of the internship offering, which places students at area farms to work alongside and learn from experienced farmers.

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"We really stress in our program to get their minds to think outside of the box and see different to do things," Repenning said.

MTI also added three other programs since 2012, which contribute a total of 88 students to the ag-related enrollment total.

The most popular of these new programs is Farm Power Technology, which has offered students tools to learn about ways to increase productivity on a farm through courses on electronic controls, harvesting equipment and service management since 2012.

Prior to the introduction of the Farm Power Technology program, MTI added Precision Ag Tech to train students for careers in geospatial data processing and equipment installation. Most recently, in 2014, MTI included the ButlerEdge Ag Technician Program to provide students with training on equipment and systems while earning an Associate's degree in applied science.

With the increasing demand for food production for a growing world population, Repenning said it's important to continue expanding ag-education.

"That's going to take a lot of people and a lot of knowledge and research to get that done so everybody has something to eat," Repenning said.

Related Topics: EDUCATIONAGRICULTURE
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