Hamm weighs in on proposed irrigation ag center

<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 in this graphic.</p>

The renewal of a Blue Mountain Community College capital improvement bond could lead to an expanded and lasting partnership with Oregon State University’s Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center if it passes.

The bond, which is a 15-year renewal of an existing measure that expires in June 2014, would raise approximately $28 million if approved by voters in November and create three workforce development facilities in Umatilla and Morrow counties, including a center for sustainable precision irrigated agriculture in Hermiston.

Phil Hamm, HAREC station director through Oregon State University, said the facility would significantly contribute to the area as precision agriculture represents a significant chunk of the economy and workforce opportunities present in the Hermiston and surrounding area communities.

Precision irrigated agriculture is defined as emerging technology that maximizes the efficiencies of resources, such as water, energy, fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, seeds and labor, to maximize crop yields; quality of crops soil and water; and improve the economy and environment.

“The economy of the region is ag, and a huge part of that is irrigated ag,” Hamm said. “I am certainly supportive of the bond measure. It would provide more opportunities for students locally.”

According to the Oregon State Department of Agriculture, precision irrigated agriculture had an economic value of $1.8 billion in Umatilla and Morrow counties in 2012 and represents approximately 50 percent of all employment.

Hamm said as HAREC focuses specifically on precision agriculture, it would only make sense to partner with BMCC in an effort to not only save costs but also provide students even more hands-on opportunities for learning.

“We are the ones doing the work, the ones out there testing the methods,” he said. “It only makes sense that if there is a precision ag program, that we are a part of it. We want to position ourselves in a way that we can be direct collaborators or more with the folks at BMCC.”

Hamm said he has had many conversations with BMCC administrators and President Cam Preus about what the college’s potential relationship could be with the extension center.

Some of the opportunities could include students venturing out to the facility to learn first-hand how to operate the equipment available at the facility.

Hamm said the extension center houses 13 pivots, which is more than any other facility in the region.

“I’m not really aware of any other facility that has more than one or two pivots,” he said. “We have all the equipment.”

Hamm said the extension center also uses the same methodology as local growers and experiments with techniques that would be beneficial for local farmers.

The combination of the HAREC equipment available and practices used would create the perfect environment for student learning at BMCC, he said.

Hamm said the opportunity may also attract more students into the precision agriculture realm of study.

“We also get the opportunity to bring students in who have no clue what ag is about,” he said. “

We can provide a good look at what is capable and teach them all the things that are interesting about our area.”

Hamm said together, HAREC?and Blue Mountain Community College can build a program that is good for Hermiston, its residents and for students.

“How often do we get to carry something through that is so good for the community with no new money,” he asked.

“There is a little green thumb in all of us, but most of us just don’t know how to put it to practice.”

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