The timing of Dr. Victor Martin’s arrival as Barton Community College’s new agriculture coordinator/instructor couldn’t have been better. Not only is the program getting a new instructor, it also has a new classroom and new equipment to put its students in the ideal setting for learning about agriculture and the careers it has to offer them.
Martin, who earned a doctorate in agronomy from Ohio State University, came to Stafford County 20 years ago as a Department of Agronomy/Kansas State University research and extension specialist to manage an experiment field.
"I’d never worked with sorghum, millet or irrigation, but I learned a lot and got a background and opportunity that gives me an understanding of what our students will need when they go out into the workforce," he said. The experiment field closed in 2003, and for the past six years, Martin had a statewide research extension appointment working with alternative crops and annual forages.
"I think my background with K-State, a good 20 years for me, has really prepared me to help provide Barton County, the region we serve and the state with high-quality and well prepared students," he said.
Barton’s new agriculture classroom was made possible by the recent renovation on campus. Equipment in the classroom allows video and PowerPoint presentations to facilitate training sessions. Tables that can be arranged easily in the classroom make quick work of setting up labs and hands-on projects.
In addition, the program received a grant for the purchase of new equipment that students can use on campus without having to drive 15 or 20 miles to a different location. The program is now equipped with four portable Global Positioning Systems and a handheld computer for field work, plus the appropriate software. With the GPS technology, which actually entered the field of agriculture 15 years ago, students can have the experience of determining where to apply fertilizer, mapping fertility levels and calculating yield. The guidance system has increased efficiency, but has also increased the need for technological expertise in agriculture, Martin said.
The program also has two fully equipped tool boxes for field work, an environmental growth chamber for plant growth studies and microbiology, and a microwave oven for drying samples.
Portable pH meters help students learn how to determine soil acidity. Field and lab soil test kits are used for nutrient and pesticide determination. Also part of the program are a spectrophotometer for lab analysis; two scales for weighing; dry fertilizer spreader to learn calibrations; a spray system for learning nozzle settings and calibration of liquids; and a four-wheel off-road vehicle to practice application rate determination.
"We’re equipped to give students the formal education they need and throw in problems and challenges that will allow them to not just learn ‘stuff,’ but take that stuff and apply it," he said. "We’re also going to let them get out there and get dirty and experience the fun part of agriculture."
One of their projects will be to build a permanent soil pit about 6 feet deep to let them examine the soil. "They’ll be able to get out there, get dirty and understand what they learn in a book," he said.
Martin got involved in Barton’s Agriculture Program last year as an associate instructor. This year, he is the primary instructor and has two associate instructors, one for animal science; the other for entomology.
"We are fortunate to have Dr. Verle Carlson, a 30-year veterinarian, who had his own large animal practice, then went to work for a feedlot as a vet," Martin said. As the animal science instructor, Carlson can provide true-to-life problems for the students to solve. "This tends to help get the science into their heads," Martin said.
Entomology instructor is Dana Long, who has taught in Barton’s ag program for more than a decade. "Her passion is bugs," Martin said. "She is really good with the entomology side of it and that’s great because I studied plants." One of her class assignments, Martin added, is for the students to go out and collect 60 different insects.
With Martin teaching crop management, and the associate faculty covering animal science and entomology, the students will have a well-rounded curriculum and come out well-informed about all of the opportunities available to them in agriculture.
The myth that there are no employment opportunities in agriculture is not true, Martin said. "Kansas is an agriculture state. We have a good base. Agriculture in the state employs close to 20 percent of the workforce."
One of the opportunities for agriculture students is Barton’s crop protection program. The students get their commercial driver’s license and take the classes they need for the pesticide applicator’s license. "Headhunters in agriculture are constantly seeking those who are certified crop pesticide applicators," Martin said.
He believes it’s important to give the students a broad spectrum of possibilities. Crop consulting, agriculture sales, farm production credit, agricultural loan officers in banking, even jobs in real estate and agriculture law are promising opportunities for students who are willing to work hard and be responsible, Martin said. "And these are jobs with benefits. They can be making $35,000 to $45,000 or more, plus benefits."
He pointed out that education is the key to careers in agriculture today. "Over the past 30 to 40 years, agriculture has advanced so rapidly that education is continuous," he said. Students who earn a two-year or four-year degree, or a certificate in crop protection, will need continuing education to maintain licensing and keep up with current information. "If they don’t, they’re going to be left in the dust by their competitors," he said.
Another aspect of Barton’s Agriculture Program is the Collegiate Farm Bureau organization. Martin was glad to announce 11 students turned out for the first meeting of the group. Barton County Farm Bureau is a grassroots, political and nationwide organization that has become very influential, Martin explained.
Through Collegiate Farm Bureau, these students will have an opportunity to be prepared and to network with other students and people from around the state and nation. "These students are going to have the opportunity to make connections that will help them in their careers for the rest of their lives," he said.
The more opportunities the students get, the more they will be able to make wise career choices. They may decide to get their two-year degree and go out into the workforce or transfer to a four-year college. Either way, the opportunities are going to be there, Martin predicted.