Helena Agri-Enterprises, Community Colleges Team Up on Fields of Knowledge Program
Industry supported educational programs at the college level are nothing particularly new in this industry — unless they are, in fact, actually somewhat new, as is Ivy Tech Community College and Helena Agri-Enterprises’ Fields of Knowledge Program.
Fields of Knowledge, or FOK as it is often referred to by teaching staff and students, is a research collaboration project involving students enrolled in Ivy Tech C.C.’s Precision Agriculture Equipment Technology program in Terre Haute, IN. Alongside Ivy Tech C.C. faculty and Helena advisors, they actually plan and implement local test plot research to generate performance data that Helena sales agronomists then use to help farmers select products.
FOK began two years ago at other area community colleges (as well as Western Kentucky University), but this year was Ivy Tech’s first time in the program. A nearby 22-acre soybean field was selected as the testing ground, and AGRIntelligence Information Specialist Justin Schroeder and Katie Carnahan, Gro-Link Technician, were assigned as Helena reps to interact with the Ivy Tech students.
“With FOK we’re trying to build a local data set for these products and gain local confidence in their performance, and then our investment is also in a local community college,” Schroeder says. “These students, they’ve got to plant, they’ve got to spray, and in many cases they’ve also got to side-dress nitrogen, and then at the end obviously we’ve got to harvest and collect data, so there’s a lot of technology that goes into that. Helena, we’re supporting them in those investments, and in some cases walking them through how we kind of start-to-finish put out a trial.”
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Schroeder (Class of 2014) and Carnahan (Class of 2017) are both relatively recent Purdue grads who themselves interned with Helena during their college days. Both have been pleased to have worked their first year with the Ivy Tech program.
“Overall we just find a lot of value in the program,” Carnahan says. “There’s value for the students, there’s value with our customers, and you know there’s value for us in learning agronomics. From a student’s perspective, I think it gives them the opportunity to just see the research process, and then they also get experience with all kinds of different management strategies in the field.”
Ivy Tech C.C.
Professor Darin Kohlmeyer chairs the Precision Agriculture Equipment Technology program for Ivy Tech. He says that this year the students mostly worked on fertility studies, researching different management strategies around nitrogen timing and placement.
“This is the first year we’ve done it, and I think as it gets bigger and bigger — and Helena brings more and more of their products in and showcases them — it gives our students more chances to intermingle with professional ag people in the places they live. It can help open up job opportunities after graduation that maybe they hadn’t considered before. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
For next year Kohlmeyer is hoping to continue the work the group has started with nitrogen timing and placement in the 2018 fertility study, as well as perhaps initiating a multi-year research project.
“There are things we can improve,” he admits. “We can get more student interactions within the program, and then hopefully we can get the students to do more of the application of fertilizer, driving and managing the equipment, and side-dressing nitrogen in-season.”
Parkland Community College (Champaign, IL) has been involved with the FOK program for two years, and Jenni Fridgen, Precision Agriculture Program Director, says the benefits that students in her program have reaped from the arrangement are two-fold.
“The opportunity to increase their knowledge of current agronomic practices, as well as exposing them to innovated concepts in new technologies and crop production,” Fridgen answers when asked to name the top benefits Parkland students typically see from participation. “The success of the FOK program at Parkland College has opened additional opportunities for our students to work with Helena on special projects, such as building a high-tech planter that is utilized at the other FOK locations.”
On the Helena side of things, Fridgen agrees that having unbiased third-party-executed local research on Helena products, while also helping educate the next generation of precision ag specialists, is a good arrangement for the wholesaler.
“I think it provides (Helena) with the ability to demonstrate the effectiveness of their products in an unbiased environment and the opportunity to support educational institutions like Parkland College with active learning classrooms for our students,” she says.
Schroeder, who most days kicks around Helena’s North Central Division, servicing the retailer’s local wholesale accounts with all of their AGRIntelligence needs, sees the FOK program as a bit of a necessary training ground for potential applicators as well, as the world application has undergone a bit of a boomerang back to the pre-glyphosate days of tank mixes and other practices that introduce a higher level of complexity into the equation.
“Nowadays we’ve got rigs that are costing a quarter million dollars or more, and we’re putting a product through that could do a lot of damage if you don’t do it the right way,” he says. “We, the industry, need high-caliber people. And if they have that base of knowledge in precision ag — so much of that is wrapped up in custom application these days anyways — it’s really valuable if we can place them with the wholesale network.”