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Ag colleges offer new programs for Illinois students  


Ag colleges are ramping up a new crop of programs, research efforts and facilities this year. FarmWeek caught up with education leaders to learn about the big new things unfolding on three campuses this year.

In the Heartland

Everything is new at Heartland Community College (HCC) as students start their first semester at the new Ag Complex at the college in Normal this month.

While classes started Jan. 17, the official opening of the ag complex is set for Jan. 31 with a ribbon cutting at 11 a.m. in the McLean County Farm Bureau Agriculture Lab. That evening, from 5 to 7 p.m., people can tour other new facilities which include the Precision Planting Lab, Illinois Soybean Association Soils Lab, Growmark FS Atrium, three greenhouses, several classrooms and study areas, said Kourtney Watts, associate director of agriculture at HCC.

One of the next big things here will be the installation of a 160-by-80-foot edible windbreak. “Students will be able to pick fruit from it,” she said from the college’s booth at the Everything Local Conference in Springfield, where IFB was one of the sponsors along with the Illinois Specialty Growers and Illinois Farmers Market Association.

New building opens at ICC

A new Precision Agriculture Technician program launched at Illinois Central College (ICC) in East Peoria in the fall. Students will learn precision agriculture fundamentals and technical skills related to the troubleshooting, diagnosis and repair of precision agriculture equipment.

Construction was completed in the summer of the new ag building, which will be primarily used for the ag mechanics courses and precision ag classes, ICC agriculture professor Pete Fandel said.

This year, Fandel will be using funding from a National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education Grant to train students in water quality testing.

New certification takes flight

Several new things are also popping up at Parkland College in Champaign, said Charlie Mitsdarfer, its agriculture and horticulture program director. Two full-time staff have been added along with a new program in a new building. The AGCO Technical program will be patterned after the successful Case New Holland technician program, he said.

Also, a new drone certification program will be available for agricultural, aviation and other students interested in flying UAVs.

Students will get more hands-on opportunities working on 80 acres, planting and harvesting crops for United Way’s Farmers Feeding Families program. Ag and Diesel students will get real life experience on a larger scale than on the school’s plots, Mitsdarfer said as he toured booths at the Everything Local Conference in Springfield with an eye out for more new ideas.

A USDA grant will also give students hands-on experience in data-intensive farm management working with real farmers and real data, he said.


This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit


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