By Melissa A. Nagel, Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) recently awarded Western Growers a $750,000 grant to expand their Next-Gen Agriculture program here in California. The grant is part of HR133, also known as CDFA’s 2021 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and will be used to improve agriculture curricula in California’s two- and four-year colleges and universities over the next four years. The grant is projected to benefit approximately 2,800 students and over 300 professors during that time.
Last June, Western Growers launched AgTechX Ed, a new initiative aimed at improving education and teaching in agriculture with a focus on technology. The initiative was formed through the joint efforts of Western Growers and the CDFAs Secretary of Agriculture, Karen Ross, in hopes of establishing a statewide narrative on improving agricultural technology education and training in California. The main goal of the initiative is to develop a common curriculum in California’s two- and four-year universities, while also continuing to develop professors in AgTech and provide hands-on training in the field with AgTech experts.
Dennis Donahue, Director of Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology, says that the idea for the AgTechX Ed initiative started with questions of how to make a new kind of worker in AgTech, how to reach the younger generations sooner, and how to start as early as possible to educate students and teachers and get them ready for the future of technology in agriculture. The current reality of California’s water shortage issues also plays a large part in the development of new AgTech. Donahue says that “…growers are using analytical tools more earnestly to make sure water isn’t wasted…” and that “necessity causes everyone to look harder for solutions.” Western Growers is using their AgTechX Ed program to ensure those goals become a reality in California’s near future.
One major component in improving education in agricultural technology is creating awareness about the new technologies, skills, and opportunities that are available in this field. Western Growers has taken the first steps towards creating that awareness by launching a series of events in colleges across California. The company has already hosted two AgTechX Ed events since its launch in June of 2021. The first event was held at Reedley College in August 2021 and the second was held at the end of January 2022 at Imperial Valley College. Both events featured speaking panels from leaders in AgTech, education, and workforce development, including fireside chats with CDFA’s Karen Ross. Specifically, the panels covered “industry issues and skill identification; education and workforce development strategies; and current and future workforce needs on the farm.” (Western Growers, 2022)
Western Growers has two additional AgTechX Ed events planned for April and June of 2022. The first will be held at Hartnell College in Salinas, CA and the second at Woodlands College in Woodland, CA. The exact date of these events will be announced approximately six weeks prior. A week-long summit for the Next Gen Ag program is also being planned for the Summer of 2022. To find out more information about Western Growers, the Next Gen Ag program, and the AgTechX Ed initiative, please visit their website at Western Growers | (wga.com).