WAHPETON, N.D. — A 93-acre farmland parcel west of Wahpeton soon will be a new kind "land lab" for the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, N.D.
A free land lease arrangement from a donor runs for three growing seasons, says Craig Zimprich, the school's agriculture department chairman. The arrangement goes into effect this coming season. This past season the field was in soybeans, and it has been largely in a corn-soybean rotation.
The field is about a mile from the NDSCS campus on the west edge of Wahpeton, so it's handy for student involvement.
NDSCS is working toward partnerships with agribusinesses to locate some demonstration plots on the land. "We'll be starting out next spring with this," Zimprich says, listing soil testing and a data mapping project with the National Corn Growers Association.
A nice fit
Zimprich says that a number of years ago the department decided to develop more hands-on activities.
"Our foundation worked hard to find a donor that wanted to participate," he says.
They connected with the K.P. Family Partnership, overseen by NDSCS alum Linda M. Patterson of Wahpeton. The partnership is named for Patterson and her parents, Richard and Mary Kosel.
The Kosels farmed north of Wahpeton from 1947 to the 1990s. Patterson grew up on the farm, earned an associate's degree at NDSCS, went on to what is now Minnesota State University Moorhead and had a career in teaching.
In recent years, Patterson says she had been looking for ways to give back to the community and combine her family's agriculture background and her interest in education.
"As an alumni and one who values education, and ingrained with the ag background, I thought it was a nice match — a nice fit for what I was looking for," Patterson says. "Ag isn't just planting; it's everything. That piece of land offers a lot of potential for learning experiences for students. Just sitting at a desk and learning it out of a book isn't the way that they learn."
The NDSCS agriculture program has about 90 students, combining first- and second-year students. About 30 graduate each year, and the school has had 100-percent employment placements for a number of years. The department has three dedicated classrooms and a greenhouse they use to grow plants and offer plant growth teaching.
About half of NDSCS's 2,958 students have agriculture-related career aspirations, including diesel mechanics and land surveying programs. There are six programs in the agriculture department: crop production, sales and technology, precision agriculture, animal science, farm management, ranch management and agriculture business.
The staff includes Chris Duchsherer, an instructor who grew up in Minot, N.D., and teaches agronomy, plant development and precision agriculture.
"Most of our students will go back either to the family farm, or they'll go to local agronomy centers, filling the need for agronomy sales — selling chemical, fertilizer, doing crop scouting, those types of jobs," Zimprich says.
One of those students is Riley Flom, a first-year student, who is grateful that the institution is seeking opportunities like this. Flom grew up on a farm that her parents, Ed and Jill Flom, now rent out near Kindred, N.D.
Flom currently is taking crop protection, agronomic technologies and soil protection classes at NDSCS.
"To be able to go out and look and touch and feel the soil, I'm really excited for," she says.
The crop experience will help give balance to a career she is seeking in a growing livestock industry in the state. She's accepted an internship with a hog production company in eastern North Dakota.
"I'm kind of excited to get to work with pigs more," she says.
The land lab will let students associate with agribusiness cooperators and participate in demonstrations and applied research, Zimprich says. He expects students will be involved in a range of topics — soil health, fertility and crop scouting techniques and seed treatments.
Anissa Hoffman is an associate professor of agriculture with the school.
"Our goal is ... to provide our students with demonstration plot experiences, allowing them to see some things from start to finish — experimenting with a variety of tools in agriculture," she says.
Who you know
The goal is to find agribusiness partners to operate show plots from which data can be collected in various ways, including with drones. NDSCS's agricultural advisory committee will look for ways to balance the student experience for crop diversity.
Hoffman expects that the field will be divided into four parcels of about 20 acres each, meaning about four cooperators might be enlisted. NDSCS officials are working to arrange requests for proposals from various agribusinesses to see what they might plan and how those plans might fit the institution's educational curriculum goals for its students.
Some of the work will involve hands-on crop scouting principles, which could give students a window into a part of the industry where there are good job prospects.
Examples about what they might come up with include soils demonstrations involving soil fertility, planting or tillage practices.
"We want them to be able to see the process as well as the results," Hoffman says. "We're hoping our students will be able to work all the way from soil testing to crop scouting during the summertime — bringing some of our students back for some activities in the summer that would allow them to get out in the field and monitor progress on some crops growing in the field."
Hoffman acknowledges that two-year institutions in other regions have agreements for land-based classrooms for similar opportunities. She says the NDSCS demonstration goal is complementary to the research-based data goals for North Dakota State University, for example.
"Our goal is more of a practical practice for our students," she says.