QUINCY -- Gary Shupe says the role technology will play in the agricultural industry will do nothing but proliferate in the coming years.
"We need to keep an eye on emerging technology, and how it will apply to such things as data collection," said Shupe, a co-chairman of the ag program at John Wood Community College.
Bruce Duesterhaus, a longtime area farmer, agrees wholeheartedly.
"No one (outside of farming) has any idea how much technology is involved in today's agricultural industry," he said.
From the increasing use of drones to computer software that can -- and in many cases already does -- run a large deal of ag-related machinery, Shupe says there is unlimited potential in this area.
"We're just beginning to scratch the surface," he said.
An emphasis on the increasing role of technology in agriculture was one of the top items discussed at a recent strategic planning session at JWCC.
The confab was centered around how to further strengthen the college's ag program and the economic role it will play in the future of the nine-county region that makes up the JWCC district.
One of the ideas of the planning session was to incorporate views from a variety of individuals connected with the regional agricultural community.
"It was nice to see such a focus on the future," said Travis Meteer, a beef extension specialist with the University of Illinois, which partners with JWCC at the Orr Beef Research Center in Pike County.
Meteer, who has worked at the center for six years, said JWCC students planning a career in some area of agriculture have the opportunity for hands-on type of experiences that many of their counterparts may not.
"It can open their eyes," Meteer said. "This is a unique agreement between the U of I and John Wood, and it allows (students) a sneak peek at what the next five years of the industry might hold."
Meteer said there is going to be a growing number of jobs in a changing agricultural industry, and the type of commitment JWCC has shown to its community and students is -- and will be -- beneficial to both. In some cases, JWCC students will see first-hand how this evolving industry will affect their job likelihood, even future workloads.
"This is all a great opportunity," he said.
Duesterhaus said he appreciates the overall scope of the JWCC ag program. Along with the growing technological side of agricultural industry, there remains a need for students to learn and appreciate the hands-on experience and overall work ethic required for a career in agriculture.
"It all goes hand-in-hand," he said. "Students involved can learn what it's like to work a full day (in agriculture)."
JWCC President Mike Elbe said the college is looking to best align its curriculum with resources to best benefit its students. That includes embedding high-profile technology within the curriculum.
"We are looking at what resources (both physical and human) we may need to best grow our ag program," Elbe said. "Strengthening current relationships and developing new ones will also be important."
Increasing enrollment in the ag program is one of the college's chief goals in the coming future as it attempts to boost overall enrollment at the school. JWCC ag enrollment has increased from 76 students to 96 students from fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2017, an uptick of 26 percent. Elbe is confident those numbers can be pushed upward.
Elbe feels the JWCC ag program will be a key player for years to come on agricultural landscape.
"We want to be positioned to best serve the industry in both the immediate future and down the road," he said.