WASHINGTON D.C. (KMTV) — On Monday, U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) announced in a news release that Norfolk-based Northeast Community College will receive a $450,000 grant for agricultural workforce training through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The near half-million dollar grant is intended to benefit the NECC Ruraltech+ Training Program in order to strengthen information technology and cybersecurity skills for students entering the agricultural workforce.
“This funding is important to help increase the efficiency and productivity of food production, as well as to guard against cyberattacks targeting our nation’s food supply," said Northeast Community College President Leah Barrett in the news release by Fischer's campaign. "We are proud to partner with agricultural cooperatives across Nebraska to grow their IT workforce and create pathways for entry-level workers as well as incumbent workers to upskill and get the critical skills they need to support our agricultural system."
Sen. Fischer is on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, of which Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are also a part.
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, also referred to as the Farm Bill, authorizes the USDA's food and agricultural programs through 2023. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) provides grants to six different subsections that are deemed priority areas of ag research and education, of which the agricultural systems and technology is one but also includes agriculture economics and rural communities and also bioenergy, natural resources and the environment.
The Farm Bill's agriculture systems and technology pillar centers on "the development of advanced technologies to meet the complex agricultural challenges faced by the United States and countries throughout the world," according to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) on the USDA website. "Agricultural systems—both crop and animal — involve issues such as labor, marketing, finances, natural resources, genetic stock, and equipment. NIFA-supported projects address these issues as a system, rather than on an individual basis, because a holistic approach offers greater management flexibility, safer working conditions, and a more sound economy and environment."
The USDA grant that Fischer announced for NECC is amid her overarching work to improve precision agriculture. This type of agriculture aims to improve a farmer or rancher's productive yield but reduce their environmental footprint while being more cost-effective. Sen. Fischer is behind the Precision Agriculture Loan Act (PAL), a bipartisan bill to create a program within the USDA to provide loan financing for farmers to purchase precision agricultural equipment or retrofit their existing equipment.
NECC offers a precision agriculture program in addition to a variety of other ag programs for Associates of Applied Sciences degrees including agronomy, urban agriculture, dairy technician and animal science. In 2020, NECC announced a $500,000 grant for new agriculture facilities that was provided by an outside donor.