Northeast Community College is on the verge of making a global impact.
Still in the conceptual stages of development, Northeast — along with numerous partners — is working to create a National Agriculture Center for Excellence. The center would be located at Northeast’s Chuck M. Pohlman Agriculture Complex site.
What’s driving this concept is the practice of precision agriculture, said Dr. Michael Chipps, college president.
“It seems like this makes very good sense to be able to put together an area that ... actually promotes agriculture and what the importance and value of it is, not only for Northeast Nebraskans, but for the state,” Chipps said. “So how do we get better and better at it? I think we have an obligation as a community college to do that, especially with the resources we have here. We have unlimited capacity, and this is one area we can head into. I think there are limitless opportunities.”
The vision of the center is to preserve the quality and quantity of water, not only in Nebraska, but also to apply research that will be useful for the nation and the world.
“Do we need to conserve what we do? Do we need to measure what we do? Do we need to regulate what we do?” Chipps said. “The quality of water and the quantity of water are big issues for us.”
The center also will focus on agriculture and energy, as well as helping to create what Chipps calls the 21st-century farmer — a farmer-scientist, if you will — with a focus on reducing input costs and creating greater output.
Since agriculture is Northeast’s largest program — plus one of the leading industries in the state — it only made sense to start the ball rolling in Norfolk.
“We’re really preparing ourselves. We’re looking ahead — what’s the next thing within agriculture?” said Dr. Tracy Kruse, associate vice president of development and external affairs at Northeast. “That’s one of the other reasons why this is so important because it’s so important to Nebraska. When 25 percent of our workforce is tied directly to that, we can’t be successful as a state if we’re not investing in this.”
A statistic that sticks out to Kruse is that 93 percent of the state’s land is already being used for agriculture.
“When they talk about feeding the world, we’re going to have to double our production by 2050,” Kruse said. “We’re at the epicenter of feeding the world. And how can we do that when 93 percent of our land is already being used? We can’t go any further with the land, so we have to be more productive with the land that we’ve got.”
Kruse said the college has 540 acres of land dedicated to agriculture. Some of the land is being used for demonstration plots to identify such things as nutrient management, soil health and seed variety. The center will enhance what the college is already doing, Kruse said.
“The university can do its theoretical research, but how do you take that research and apply it to actually make a difference in decision-making knowledge and pass it on? How can we use our land, use our partnerships with business and industry, to help further that?” Kruse said.
Students will have the latest technology and equipment available through the center, Kruse said. By using the research and technology, farmers will be able to make better decisions in their operations.
“This is very cutting edge in this field. We’re utilizing it, as in we’re looking at the data. But how do we really use it to change our patterns? Make different decisions based on that?” Kruse said. “It’s the future livelihood of farming. We could really change that by making it much more profitable and really help Nebraska in the future growth and sustainability of the state. It’s exciting.”