Ag program to use outdoor lab space at Yucca Ridge

Information-only item presented to board of trustees Monday 

Drone technology is likely to play a key part in agriculture during the 21st century. Thanks to a partnership with local businessman John Smith, Seward County Community College will offer students in the ag division an opportunity to explore the possibilities offered by drones. That’s not the only benefit available to agriculture students.

Using land that is part of Smith’s Yucca Ridge housing development and golf course north of Liberal on U.S. Hwy. 83, students will soon be able to engage in a wide variety of outdoor lab experiences. The information item presented to the Board of Trustees at the regular Monday meeting did not involve a vote or long-term commitment. 

“We’re not tying any knots or signing any contracts with Yucca Ridge,” Trzaska said. He noted that student involvement at the site does not include involvement with golf course operations or maintenance. Instead, the focus is on expanded opportunities for real-life, hands-on learning.

“Many opportunities exist in integrated pest management, where Yucca Ridge can serve as a teaching and learning atmosphere,” stated Dean of Agriculture, Business, and Personal Services Kim Zant in a report to the board. In that class, “students must learn to identify common animal and insect pests, common weeds, pathogens of viruses, bacteria, and fungi that attach plant and animal hosts. Students would be able to visit Yucca Ridge regularly during the semester to find and identify these pests.” 

Other classes that may utilize Yucca Ridge include Principles of Horticulture Science, Weed Science, Soil Fertility and Fertilizers, as well as the still-in-development Drone Technology.

“This is an opportunity to access outdoor lab space in a strategic way,” said SCCC President, Dr. Ken Trzaska. “We have drone technology that will soon be added to our agriculture curriculum, but there are regulatory limitations about when and where drones can be used, and our main campus is too close to the local airport.” 

Working with agriculture instructor Nick Noterman and computer information systems instructor Ed Hall have mapped out ways to incorporate drone technology into existing classes. 

“Drone can be used to help survey land, check cattle, and ultimately apply pesticides or herbicides to crops,” Noterman said in a planning session with his department. “The uses for the technology are endless.”

In keeping with that vision, Trzaska said, “There are some broader visions for what might come of a partnership with Yucca Ridge, but we are committed to being very thoughtful about our strategy. The focus must be opportunities to enhance the student experience and grow our curriculum.”

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