South Hamilton FFA trains students for high-tech careers in precision agriculture.

Hands-on, experiential learning is a hallmark of agricultural education in Iowa. Thanks to an award from New Holland and Raven Industries, the South Hamilton FFA is one of a handful of schools in the U.S. with access to a state-of-the-art precision agriculture simulator right in the classroom.

South Hamilton High School (SHHS), located in Jewell, was one of 11 schools nationwide to receive a simulator last year, which the companies offered to mark the 75th anniversary of New Holland forming its partnership with FFA.

“Currently, we are using the simulator to supplement the things we do in my agronomy and ag mechanics classes. We have done some precision ag projects with a local precision dealer, Koop Ag Solutions,” said South Hamilton FFA Advisor Carlton Ness. “We are using the Raven simulator to train kids for careers in this industry. At some point, our hope is that if we have enough support we will make a precision ag class.”

After receiving the simulator in August, it went into use last fall and was immediately a hit.

“I like hands-on learning, and this is a great opportunity for other kids that like to learn that way to learn skills that they can actually use,” said Tyler Scheller, a senior at South Hamilton. “Having that technology set up in our classroom has created a lot of interest from students wanting to know more about it. I think it will continue to be a positive thing for our school and FFA chapter.”

According to Raven Industries, the simulator is designed as an educational tool for teachers and students, presenting market-leading precision tools and accessories in a compact format that easily fits into any learning environment.

Pictured above: South Hamilton FFA students use the simulator to work on calculating the navigation for a steering system. PHOTO / CONRAD SCHMIDT

The simulator includes two key elements of Raven technology: the Viper 4+, Raven’s in-cab display; and the RS1, Raven’s three-in-one GPS, connectivity and autosteer sensor. Together with a monitor, receiver, cabling and adapters, steering wheel, and auto-guidance collar, these elements simulate real-world farming applications to create a hands-on training experience.

“The simulator is meant to teach us how to install and set up precision technology in a tractor, sprayer or spreader,” said South Hamilton senior Kaden Schwandt. “We can hook up the hardware, install software, adjust settings for fertilizer and spraying rates, add implement components in the system and set up the autosteer functions to set GPS lines.”

Along with the simulator, each selected FFA chapter received access to training resources to support their use of the simulators. These include detailed videos and a dedicated training session provided by a New Holland or Raven precision technology staff member on how best to operate and optimize the functions, setup and basic operation of the simulator.

“I had some time to play around with the simulator over the summer and get used to how it operates,” Ness said. “I went through some training towards the end of the fall semester with Raven, and since then the kids have had the opportunity to dive into it full speed and start exploring all of the options.”

Ness said beyond the novelty of having the simulator on hand, he sees it as a path to preparing students to join the workforce.

“We have local demand for students to be trained to use this technology for highly skilled careers,” Ness said. “We are trying to do everything we can to prepare the students to have successful careers in agriculture in our own community.”

Students say the simulator provides that hands-on experience vital to learning these technical skills.

“Just getting the chance to explore this technology and learn how it all works and how it can be applied has been great,” said Tyler Schachtner, a senior at South Hamilton. “There have been some troubleshooting things we have had to overcome along the way, which has been a learning experience too. Being able to explore it on our own and get to use real technology that is used in the field has been cool.”