BANGOR — Jake Teske has known he wants to be a farmer since he started milking cows in the sixth grade and driving tractor the next year.
To help prepare him for a successful career in the industry, the second-year agronomy student at Western Technical College was among nearly a dozen farm business and production management program students participating in a field experience near Bangor. The students got a hands-on introduction to latest tractor and harvesting equipment as well as experience taking soil samples and collecting data on field performance such as yield.
While his experience farming growing up has been helpful in the program, Teske said gone are the days when someone can just take over the family farm out of high school. The technology has rapidly changed as global positioning devices and other equipment allow farmers to get a detailed look at how individual portions of their fields are doing.
“Farming has just changed so much over the last two decades,” he said. “Especially crop farming. I’ve learned so much about how these plans grow through my classes.”
There are about 20 students in the program instructor Brad Sirianni said. Students can focus on either agronomy, the study of crops, or animal science. Classes have similar field experiences on a local animal farm, he said, exposing them what its like to work with the animals.
Students also get experience with how budgeting works, such as calculating input costs for crops or animals as well as expected returns. The data the students collect and analyze is used in their classes and each year they come up with recommendations for the farmers on how to improve their operations.
The number of students coming from the family farm and hoping to return has dropped in recent years as the industry and its demographics have changed. Many of the students in the program are looking to get jobs for local agribusiness companies working in positions such as agronomist, custom operator or herd manager.
During the field experience, students got a demonstration of the equipment by staff from St. Joseph Equipment, which has long partnered with Western’s agribusiness program. They learned about how combines and tractors work, how to maintain and troubleshoot the different parts of the implements as well as taking a turn inside the cab learning how they operate and the technology works.
“It is a great opportunity to put all the in-class knowledge they have together,” instructor Aimee Schomburg said. “They can then take that back to the farm and their future careers.”
Elise Walters grew up working on beef and dairy farms in Houston, Minn. She likes the manual labor of farming and hopes to use her animal-science degree to continue working with other farmers or on her own farm.
There is only so much a student can learn in class, she said, and getting outside in the fields helps with experience. Companies are looking for graduates who already have this exposure as this lowers the learning curve of a new hire.
“It is really useful,” she said. “In agriculture, you are bound to be working with this kind of technology these days.”