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Published November 25, 2013, 10:51 AM

Bushels and dollars

SD county and MTI land deal nets profits and education.

By: Forum News Service, Forum News Service

MITCHELL, S.D. — An agreement between South Dakota’s Davison County and Mitchell (S.D.) Technical Institute has helped hundreds of students learn the basics of farming and has paid the county thousands of dollars.

Since April 2001, MTI has held a crop-sharing agreement that allows the school to farm county-owned land, a program MTI calls its “land lab.” The students do all the farming and after harvest and crop sales, give a report to Davison County commissioners.

“Some of these individuals have never driven a combine or combined corn or soybeans, and that’s part of what that land agreement was for, giving students hands-on experience,” says MTI agricultural technology instructor Rick Kriese, who’s in his third year of teaching at the school.

The current five-year agreement ends in March and states that 25 percent of the income from the crop sales is paid to the county. This year, MTI had access to four fields totaling 88 acres, all of which are near city limits.

In the past five years combined, the MTI harvest has made Davison County a total of $47,650.59. Kriese and four MTI students recently reported this year’s harvest of corn and soybeans netted the county $11,698.17. The income the county receives goes to its general fund.

MTI President Greg Von Wald says the agreement is a “win-win” for both MTI and the county.

“If you’re going to teach education in agriculture, and you do not have a land lab, it is tough to really get across what we want to a young student,” Von Wald says. “We use that land lab as a way to teach them to make the mistakes to understand how to manage it, the techniques, the new technologies and how to get the hands-on experience they need.

“Then they can take it back to their farm and then they’ve done it. Without that land lab, we would really be in a pickle.”

A great experience

Three MTI programs — ag tech, farm power and precision tech — used the land this year. In total, Kriese says 170 students were involved with the lab. This year, MTI students planted a total of 35.5 acres of corn in three fields that averaged 165.65 bushels an acre. The students planted one field of soybeans at 44.1 acres that averaged 44.08 bushels an acre.

In the past five years, MTI has made about $143,000 in sales from the crops on county land. Von Wald says that money goes into an agriculture farm account to help fund the program.

“That’s not all profit,” Von Wald says. “We pay for seed, we pay for insurance, and we pay for fertilizer, just like you would if you were a producer out there. It’s just like you would run your farm. Some years we’ll have a profit, some years we don’t.”

At the land lab, MTI uses its own combines, planters, drills and trailers, but leases tractors from local implement dealers.

Steven Whistler, of Spencer, was one of the students who reported to the commissioners.

“There’s a few of us who’ve driven combines or knew a little bit about it,” Whistler says. “I’m not going to say we’re experts, but we knew enough to run it. Some of the kids had never even been around it, and this is a great experience for them, just to get out there and be in the field.”

Commissioner John Claggett says the county has been happy with MTI as tenants for the acreage, and says it’s an added bonus for the students to have a place to learn.

“There’s nothing better than hands-on experience, and we thank you all for what you’re doing,” Claggett told Kriese and the students.