BMCC officials say new ag center would benefit many

<p>The renewal of a capital expenditure bond would allow the construction of three workforce development program facilities in Umatilla and Morrow counties, including a Center for Sustainable Precision Irrigated Agriculture in Hermiston, shown here.</p>

The Blue Mountain Community College capital improvement bond may not hit ballots until November of this year, but the college already has some extensive plans in the works for what it would do in Hermiston should voters approve measure.

The 15-year bond will go to voters Nov. 5 and will serve as a renewal of an existing measure. If approved, the fund rate will remain the same as the existing measure at 31 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. At current assessed value rates, the measure would raise approximately $28 million for the college.

The majority of the funds will go toward funding the construction of three workforce development program facilities in Umatilla and Morrow counties: a precision irrigated agriculture center in Hermiston, an applied animal science education center in Pendleton and an industrial processes workforce and science, technology, engineering and mathematics training center in Boardman.

As far as the facility in Hermiston is concerned, school officials said the program would significantly contribute to the workforce development of precision irrigated agriculture in the area by providing students the opportunity to learn about the subject’s various components.

Students will potentially have the chance to take courses on precise irrigation engineering and water management; real-time micro-sensor technologies data input; precise location and control of assets through the use of geographic information system and GPS technologies; and courses on the use of digital broadband wireless communications for remote control of pumps, pivots, valves, soil moisture, etc.

Other components of the coursework include variable rate irrigation water application technologies; crop status monitoring to employ multi-spectral digital data from satellite and airborne platforms; and dynamic data collection to support food safety, water quality, environmental quality and good agricultural practice reporting.

Casey Beard, director of grants at BMCC, said the new facility would complement the Eastern Oregon Higher Education Center’s design and would include a large, multipurpose instructional bay, which could hold a center pivot section and control panel; pumps, piping and manifolds; spaces to design, install and test wireless broad communications components; and room to design and install remote sensing devices.

In addition, the facility would house a remote sensing and wireless technology laboratory, a soil science laboratory and conventional classrooms, offices and an option for an auditorium.

Beard said the initial goal of the program is to make sure the community has a local workforce that is trained in using the various precision irrigated agriculture techniques of today.

The precision irrigated agriculture field presents a huge potential in the area as it had an economic value of $1.8 billion in Umatilla in Morrow counties last year, according to the Oregon State Department of Agriculture. Approximately 50 percent of all employment is also supported by the industry.

“Eventually, we would also like to begin drawing students from throughout the Northwest and eventually become a regional, and then national, epicenter for precision agriculture and ground water-use in general,” Beard said.

He said, as a long-term goal, the college also hopes to develop an international reputation for its programs offered, and the college plans to work with agencies to train students from all over the world.

He used IRZ Consulting as an example for the type of workforce that requires employees to hold an extensive knowledge base of technologically advanced irrigation and agriculture.

The company, based out of Hermiston, provides water resource engineering with state-of-the-art technology in advanced irrigation, resource management and conservation services to clients all over the region.

”As companies like that address the need for trained workers to run those facilities, students could be sent here to be trained,” he said. “BMCC is working with those organizations to be part of that delivery.”

Beard said BMCC is also looking to partner with the local high schools in the area to offer dual credit opportunities to high school students in an effort spark an agricultural interest in students early on.

The program will also act as a catalyst for those looking to purse four-year degrees through Oregon State University by giving them hands-on learning opportunities because of its close proximity to the OSU Experiment Station facilities.

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