Decisive Farming gets involved with a local school to show students that ag can be innovative.

Decisive Farming is a business built on innovation and looking towards the future. The Alberta company offers precision agriculture services, crop marketing services and a scouting app, and is always searching for new ways to make a difference in the ag community.

When the company was offered the opportunity to participate in a program called Career Connections, they jumped at the chance. Career Connections is a student-centered, community-based model of education run by Acme School in Acme, Alta. The aim is to educate students about the world around them by participating in activities outside of typical classroom work, by partnering with local businesses and organizations.

Community and business partners provide mentorship, financial support, time and public relations to the program. The student participants, who range in age from kindergarten to Grade 12, benefit by acquiring valuable transferrable skills through field trips, work experience, expert speakers and customized educational and career pathways.

More than just a community outreach initiative, Decisive saw this as a way to reach potential future hires and customers by showing students what their sector has to offer.

Challenging Perceptions

Tasha Schmaltz, chief product officer at Decisive Farming, says Acme School approached the company last year to participate in the program. The first tour was a group of eighth grade students who visited their operation in November 2015, and the latest one took place in May of this year. Schmaltz says he was happy to have the opportunity to spread the word about innovation in agriculture.

“I love educating people about agriculture,” he says. “I think at the end of the day, we need to have more people involved in ag, and it hasn’t been the most sexy or exciting space. There’s almost a negative image to it a lot of the time. I think it’s really important to allow for young people to learn about all the great careers and great opportunities that there are in agriculture, especially the technology aspect of it, which has come a long way.”

Schmaltz says the mutual benefits provided by the program make it attractive to businesses and organizations because they are able to offer learning experiences to students, while at the same time shaping the next generation’s view of agriculture and agri-retail. He says the company will continue to participate in Career Connections and other programs like it.

“It’s a domino effect,” he says. “You have this opportunity that when you talk to a group of kids and show them what’s there, then they have the opportunity when they’re deciding what career to choose, to think that this is a good career. Yeah, it’s a small group, but it keeps spreading. You’ve got to start somewhere. I think if we all speak out and we all participate, we can educate a lot of people quite quickly about what great things we’re doing in ag.”

Excited and Engaged

Blair Mitchell, soil technician manager at Decisive Farming, had the opportunity to take the students on part of the tours. He found that they were genuinely engaged and their reactions were positive.

“The students met with our GIS team and got to see our sampling labs. They also learned a bit about what role data management programs play for the growers and for retail,” he says. “I showed them the sampling equipment and explained to them the progression of that equipment, from outside rear-mounted equipment, to now being all in the cab. I showed them how it all worked and explained the process of using GPS and computers.

“It kind of opened their eyes a little bit that it’s not just working the ground anymore – there are more factors in farming and the ag industry nowadays. It was nice to see their reaction to it.”

Cathy Price, project coordinator and teacher at Acme School, went on the Decisive Farming tour with her students. She says the students were excited and surprised about the technology involved in today’s agriculture industry.

“Decisive was a fantastic stop for the Grade 8 Entrepreneurial Spirit class because it represents so many aspects of entrepreneurism, including problem solving, innovation, data management and effective communication,” she says. “The students were really interested in the customized vehicles used for soil sampling and were impressed with the innovative designs used to make the process more efficient, safer and more precise. Learning about how this technology was patented was also very interesting and the students enjoyed hearing about how Decisive has made its mark on the agriculture industry.”

The program helped pique the interest of participants who had never entertained the agriculture industry as a career possibility, or even a subject
of interest.

“Many students who are not familiar with the industry were surprised by how much data modern farm operations have to manage and the role that technology can play in supporting this task,” says Price. “They were also interested in how precision farming is impacting efficiency and sustainability.”

Potential for Participation

Price says she believes similar programs would be easy to adopt in other schools, as long as they are scaled to fit within the school’s resources and the availability of community partners.

“One way to initiate the conversation between businesses and schools is by showcasing and engaging students in various local careers,” she says. “This can be done in a variety of ways and does not always have to involve a job placement or job shadow experience, which isn’t always practical in some situations. Many of our partners provide expertise in class from everything including elementary guest speakers on careers, to a workshop for high school students on how to network effectively in informal settings.”

According to Price, these programs are invaluable for allowing students to learn outside of the classroom and consider career options that they might not know anything about. She sees the partnerships between schools and companies operating in the community as integral to the education of her students, and encourages other schools to offer similar opportunities.

“When educational and career pathways align, the entire community benefits,” she says. “Stronger bonds between schools and communities are mutually beneficial and result in connected, caring, competent citizens. There is an opportunity in every lesson to build a stronger future.”

With the rising demand for skilled young candidates in agriculture, Decisive Farming’s participation in this collaborative community-building program is a boon to the entire industry. More agri-retailers following suit could result in a shift in the way the general public views this innovative and evolving sector.


How to Create a Connection in Your Community

According to Cathy Price, project coordinator/teacher at Acme School, there are many ways for companies to get involved in programs like Career Connections.

“Think of the expertise, resources and personnel that you have across your staff and how much time you have available to give. Some companies are seasonal, and it might be easier to release staff or host a field trip experience at different times of the year,” she says. “You also need to consider what type of partnership best suits your company and be sure to communicate this (to the school). In our area, we have diverse partnerships including vocal support and public relations, volunteerism, resource providers, career exploration, program planning, community experts, work placements and financial contributions.”

For communities that already have programs like Career Connections in place, the next step for agri-retailers is to simply reach out and get involved. In areas without programs that connect schools and local businesses, programs like Agriculture in the Classroom are a good place to find resources and see what initiatives are happening in your area.

 

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