In an industry that is critical to not only Nebraska and the nation, but across the entire world, the agriculture department at Northeast Community College is at the forefront of developing future farmer-scientists. The Norfolk school has been recognized for its work in the area over the years and presently awards the eighth highest number of associate degrees in agriculture in the country.
On Aug. 22, college officials launched a major initiative that will ensure agriculture students are succeeding in their education to develop the skills to become productive members of the workforce and the communities they serve. A news conference kicked off a capital campaign to raise funds for the first phase of the Agriculture & Water Center of Excellence at Northeast, a project that has been designed to invest in future facilities and equipment to enhance programming opportunities.
“Agriculture is the single largest program of study at Northeast,” said Dr. Tracy Kruse, associate vice president of development and external affairs and the executive director of the college foundation. “Approximately 350 students register for 12 agriculture programs at Northeast each year. These students, who receive outstanding instruction from 14 full-time faculty members, are exposed to cutting edge technology, but many of their classrooms and labs are in a 100-year-old repurposed dairy barn. The Agriculture & Water Center of Excellence project will provide modern, efficient classroom and lab space for these future producers and agribusiness employees.”
The Agriculture & Water Center of Excellence is a multi-phased project, and funds are currently being solicited for $23 million for initial construction through a capital campaign called “Nexus.” The college has set aside $10 million of its capital funds to help establish this project, the remainder will be raised privately.
The campaign has already received a significant contribution. At Thursday’s kickoff event, Kruse announced a $5 million lead gift to the campaign by the Acklie Charitable Foundation.
“The Acklie Family College Farm will provide a lasting legacy to the family for their commitment to agriculture in northeast Nebraska,” she said.
The Acklie Charitable Foundation was founded by the late Duane W. Acklie, his wife Phyllis and daughters Dodie, Laura and Holly. Duane and Phyllis were alums of Norfolk Junior College, a predecessor institution of Northeast Community College and have been involved in many business and philanthropic ventures over the years.
Halley Acklie Kruse, vice president and general counsel of the foundation, said family connections played a role in the Acklie Charitable Foundation’s decision to support the Nexus campaign.
“But, just as the campaign is about what is next – next for sustainable agriculture, next for Nebraska’s workforce, next for innovation – an important factor in ACF’s decision to support the Nexus campaign was the consideration of Nebraska’s future,” she said. “When Nebraska agriculture succeeds, Nebraska thrives. For these reasons ACF believed it was important to invest in the future of Nebraska’s next generation of farmers, ranchers, and community leaders.”
Tracy Kruse describes the word nexus as signifying center point or “the joining.”
“Agriculture is the center of the economy of Nebraska. Nebraska is in the center of the United States,” Kruse said. “The 20-county service area of Northeast Community College includes one of the highest concentrations of farming and ranching, agribusiness and meat processing in the nation.”
Initial construction planned for the Agriculture & Water Center of Excellence includes a new farm site with farm office and storage, large animal handling facility and other farm structures. In addition, the plan calls for a veterinary technology clinic and classrooms. The new facilities will be located near the Chuck M. Pohlman Agriculture Complex at the intersection of E. Benjamin Ave. and Highway 35 in Norfolk. The vet tech building will be located west of the ag complex, while the farm site and animal handling facilities will be behind the tree line that is north of the current complex.
Replacing the current farm site with facilities designed for teaching and learning is a priority of the Nexus campaign. The largest building on the current site is a former dairy loafing barn that was built in the 1920s.
Corinne Morris, dean of agriculture, math and science at Northeast said the farm site has limited storage for equipment, so expensive machinery is stored outside or in buildings with dirt floors, no electricity and no front doors.
“There is no structure for feed storage and no modern livestock buildings, and the feedlot needs to be redesigned and relocated,” she said.
An efficiently designed farm site will allow for space for students to observe farm operations and livestock handling, and also provide hands on opportunities with facilities and equipment similar to what they will encounter on the job or on their own farm operations.