Riverland strives to be agricultural leader

Published 9:55 am Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Column: Riverland Community College, by Adenuga Atewologun

Riverland Community College has a rich history helping working farmers improve business operations in the best way to maintain their competitive edge.

Our highly qualified faculty provides practical training and education, working directly with farmers and their business operations, often on the farm. Riverland is ready to advance this practical and very effective approach to problem solving within the broader agriculture environment, contributing to meeting personal business needs and promoting regional economic development growth.

Adenuga Atewologun

Adenuga Atewologun

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Accelerating practical application as related to technology in agricultural business operations and education is in line with Riverland’s vision. Riverland strives to be a regional education leader and an essential link to economic and social vitality; being recognized for excellence in learning through innovation, responsiveness, resourcefulness and collaboration. To this end, Riverland offers high quality learning programs and services that enhance the economic competitiveness of the region.

In an ag symposium scheduled for Nov. 21 at the Historic Hormel House, Riverland and The Hormel Foundation will host ag professionals to discuss the expansion of three specific areas in agriculture technology application that will increase the capacity and potential for contributing to practical solutions for agricultural challenges within our region and across the nation:


1. Precision agriculture

Precision agriculture is a management system that is information and technology based.

While GPS guidance is becoming more common, and increasingly found mounted in the cab of agricultural equipment, this represents only a partial solution to site-specific applications of agriculture technology. GIS data allow farmers to visualize, question, analyze, interpret and understand data to reveal relationships, patterns and trends.

An agriculture modeling and simulation center hosted through Riverland would organize the education in and application of a solutions-oriented framework for solving particular agricultural challenges. Partners in agriculture from many fields would collaborate to engage in applied education, busting traditional education and academic “silos.” This approach to technology application in education would yield robust solutions to complex problems resulting in far more accurate predictions than one educational resource could develop alone. Farms, large and small, would apply modeling to overall or targeted operations through mathematical and statistical modeling, visualization (2D, 3D, interactive); simulation (3D, computer, motion, immersive); data analysis, verification and validation; and human factors applications.

The economic impact this proposed center could have on state and regional agriculture is significant. Economic development is enhanced through precision agriculture and applied analytics that is paired with GIS at the local farm level. The time is right to bring agriculture modeling and simulation to the hands-on farmer.


2. Food engineering education

The 2010 Census of Manufacturers reported that food processors accounted for 22.3 percent of the total value of shipments by Minnesota manufacturers in 2010, representing an industry of more than $23 billion and an increase of 56 percent since 1997.

In that same year, Minnesota food manufacturers in Minnesota employed more than 45,000 people or 15.8 percent of the state’s manufacturing employment, with a payroll of more than $1.8 billion annually. (Source: Midwest Food Processors Association Inc.)

To support this growing enterprise, we must carefully consider all aspects of the food supply chain from food production to consumption. The food manufacturing industry relies on a well-educated and innovative workforce. Central to the education is the application of engineering principles to the handling, manufacturing, processing and distribution of food from producer to consumer.

Food systems and processes take into account basic engineering and applications from the fields of physics, chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, nutrition and food science. Add to these traditional science fields, the application of manufacturing mechanics, maintenance and operations that even further the importance of education to the food industry.

As global demands for healthy and available food supplies increase, the need for improvements on traditional food handling and processing challenge food systems of the future. Riverland is prepared to create food-engineering education programming to address these needs.


3. Agricultural microtechnology

There is a substantial economic and industry growth potential for agribusiness in the application of scientific innovations to agriculture, especially the space between macro- and nanotechnology. Microtechnology (represented by one millionth of a meter) applications in agriculture are beginning to emerge in areas related to food safety and security, bioenergy, robotics, sustainable agriculture, health and nutrition, and food processing and development. Design of product characterization, packaging, transport and tracking; enhancements to functional nutrition such as food fortification or the delivery of nutrients; sensors to detect pathogens or contaminants related to food safety; or taste and texture enhancements are all elements being explored through applications in agriculture or food microtechnology. Beyond the food supply chain, farming today extends to applied energy solutions, water conservation and land use solutions. The relevance of the farm is as critical to society today and in the future, as it has been in our past.

Riverland Community College and The Hormel Foundation would be the conveners of a summit for an entrepreneurial center focused on agriculture and food science microtechnology applications and workforce training. Through a manufacturing incubator to bring product to market, along with an identified workforce employee-training program, the Riverland Agricultural Microtechnology Center would provide for a wide range of technology learning needs.

A clean-room environment constantly monitored and climate controlled would offer a low level of environmental pollutants such as dust, airborne microbes, aerosol particles and chemical vapors. The facility would also accommodate a wide range of professional learning needs — including state-of-the-art presentation capabilities, teleconferencing, distance learning and audio and video communications systems connecting learners on a regional to global scale. Riverland matches the entrepreneur with the required workforce training resources to be successful.

These three educational expansion goals will be the primary focus of what we hope will be a lively discussion on Nov. 21 and a strategy for our region’s future.


Adenuga Atewologun is the president of Riverland Community College. He holds a doctorate in agricultural engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.