Beyond the Farm

As one of the first institutions to cultivate a partnership with John Deere, and one of the few, SUNY Cobleskill and its Agricultural Engineering Department are ahead of the curve in training technicians to work on industry equipment. The education, designed, fine-tuned, and delivered on repeat, has helped countless graduates earn sought-after careers.

“We are influencing diverse decision makers in the ag world,” says Agricultural Engineering Department Chair Doug Hammond. Once students understand the technology, the focus shifts to instructing them on the ways in which they can apply it. The future of agriculture projects to heavily involve drone technology, increase reliance on precision agriculture, and be more geared than ever towards sustainability. “If you are going to be on the responsible edge of agriculture, you need to embrace technology,” says Hammond.

The future of agriculture also relies on trained technicians, capable of designing and modernizing equipment. The future of technicians, says Hammond, depends on agricultural engineering programs connecting with students. He is talking about pathways, degree pairing, working with high school and vocational school students, educating instructors, and the value of transferable skills.

Dealers, including John Deere, have realized the need for capable technicians starts with educating students. Now, they are realizing educating students often starts before college. Explains Hammond, “They are asking ‘how do we connect with students at the vocational level, provide them the type of education we [at SUNY Cobleskill] provide, and bring them in as technicians?’”

SUNY Cobleskill forms those coveted relationships by bringing prospective students to campus; Ag High School Day, the College in High School Program, and the prevalence of Future Farmers of America (FFA) do just that. The College’s Ag PTECH partnership, which led to the creation and opening of a dedicated-agricultural high school in St. Johnsville in 2016, forges additional pathways. Those who ultimately enroll earn skills that are fundamental and transferable. Core skills carry over from major to major, Hammond says – diesel tech students, for example, qualify for careers throughout agriculture. “We let the students identify their interests,” says Hammond. “We customize the educational experience, not the skills.”

There is also a need to instill technological knowledge in who Hammond calls “non-agricultural engineering people.” Products used for mapping, to maintain soil health, and predict yields are among those SUNY Cobleskill incorporates into curricula. It leads many courses to be filled with students studying Plant Science, Landscape Management, Agricultural Business, and Sustainable Crop Production.

The confluence of agriculture and technology is no longer horizonal. Yet, it is fluid. Students from backgrounds beyond the farm are enrolling in agricultural engineering programs. Now, influence is coming from both sides: industry and tech, and education.

Feature photo: Drone technologies are among the most recent advancements the Agricultural Engineering Department is incorporating into curricula.

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